Senior Seminar - Journalism

(SMPA 199, Section 12)

Prof. A.L. May

Fall, 1999
Phillips 410
3:30 p.m. - 6 p.m. Monday

Phone: 202-994-9014, E-mail: almay@gwu.edu
Office: T409E, Phillips Hall
Office Hours: 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesday, or by appointment

Topic: The Journalist as Storyteller: Literary Journalism and 0ther Borderlands.

Goals: To understand and appreciate the storytelling role of journalism through readings, discussions and writing exercises; to round out the undergraduate journalism education by introducing students to literary journalism and other genres that stretch traditional journalistic precepts; to enrich the reading and writing life.

Textbooks:
Required: Stephen Crane, Journalism, and the Making of Modern American Literature by Michael Robertson (Robertson), The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda (Art of Fact), and Literary Journalism: A New Collection of the Best American Nonfiction edited by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer (Literary Journalism). Other selected readings will be distributed.

Recommended: Hiroshima by John Hersey, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden, The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.

Class Participation: This is a seminar - a discussion. Attendance and engaging in the exchange of ideas and observations will be crucial to success in the course. It is very important that each member of the class keep up with the reading. Each student will make two presentations for the seminar: A portrait of a selected author and a presentation associated with the final paper. The portrait of an author presentation will be team effort as outlined by the instructor or any student may do an individual presentation of an author with permission of the instructor. Class participation will constitute 30 percent of the grade. Punctuality in attending class and meeting assignment deadlines will be expected.

Exercises: Periodic and short writing assignments will be used to explore storytelling techniques, including narrative, dialogue, scene setting and description. Each will be assigned with instructions, but all completed work should be double spaced in standard type size. Students should be prepared to discuss their work and critique that of others in the seminar. Grades will be based on producing the content assigned, achieving the technique and conforming to professional writing standards, including grammar, spelling and word usage. The exercises will make up 20 percent of the grade.

Senior Project: Half the grade in the course will hinge on a project that demonstrates a successful transition from student to professional. It should be considered a capstone to the undergraduate experience, a product that would impress a potential employer, graduate program or other professional school. The project will include an oral presentation during the last two sessions of the seminar. The final product will be due on the date set for the final examination.

The project can follow one of two approaches:

1. A magazine or long newspaper article that shows professional quality and employs writing techniques studied during the seminar. With the permission of the professor, a student could opt to create a videotape and script suitable for a television magazine program or in-depth segment for an evening news show. Regardless of form, the product should be polished and conform to AP style.

2. An original research paper on a literary journalist, literary journalism or a related topic. A term paper that summarizes secondary sources is not acceptable. The project must use primary sources of the writer or the genre. The paper should conform to Turabian, Chicago Manual of Style, APA or other widely accepted style formats.

Both categories are broad enough to allow for flexibility, but instructor approval is required for either approach. Papers should not exceed 4,000 words, double spaced. A one-page, double-spaced project proposal is due at the beginning of class Oct. 18. Students should plan to make individual appointments to discuss the project with the professor. Honors students wishing to use the project as an honors paper should discuss the project and the additional requirements with the professor early in the semester.

Project grading criteria:

A = Paper of high professional quality, publishable with only minor editing. Deadline met and engaging presentation.

B = Paper of professional quality, publishable with modest reworking and editing. Deadline met and informative presentation.

C = Paper requiring considerable rewriting and editing to meet professional and publishable standards. Deadline met and adequate presentation.

D = Paper that fails to meet professional standards and would require a complete overhaul to meet publishable standards. Deadline missed and poor or missed presentation.

F = Paper that shows disregard for professional standards and lack of effort. Deadline missed and ill-prepared or no presentation.

Schedule: Here is the plan that could be adjusted as the seminar develops a pace. In general, each session will begin with topics out of the news of the day that might relate to the role of journalists and then move to the topic related to the reading. We will take a 10-minute break about 4:45 p.m., hopefully moving to a new topic in the final hour.

Session 1, Aug. 23 - Introduction: Organize, discuss syllabus, get acquainted and start the discussion of the role of storytelling in journalism.

Reading: The Conversation of Journalism: "Newstelling: Once upon a Time in Journalism" by Rob Anderson and others (handout).
Session 2, Aug. 30 - Defining Literary Journalism: Explore the different attempts to categorize and set rules for a genre dedicated to innovation and rule breaking. Find the seeds in Defoe, Dickens and Twain.
Reading: Literary Journalism: "The Art of Literary Journalism" by Norman Sims, pp. 3-20; "Breakable Rules for Literary Journalists" by Mark Kramer, pp. 21-34; Art of Fact: pp. 13-22; selected writings of Daniel Defoe, pp. 23-28, and Charles Dickens, pp. 38-45; A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism: "Mark Twain" by Jack A. Nelson (handout); selected writings of Mark Twain (handout).
Session 3, Sept. 13 - Newspapers and literary journalism: Before the invention of the inverted pyramid news story and "objective" journalism, storytelling flourished in newspapers, particularly in the reporting of the new urban America. We'll look at some of these journalist writers with particular focus on Stephen Crane. We'll also look at the revival of the narrative in newspapers today.
Reading: Art of Fact: selected writings of Crane, pp. 58-64; Roberts: pp. 1-113; Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century: "A Third Way to Tell the Story: American Literary Journalism at the Turn of the Century" by Thomas B. Connery (handout); "Impeached," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 20, 1998 (handout).

Assignment: Write a short narrative that describes a scene or an event, using Crane's "When Man Falls Down, a Crowd Gathers" as a model. Be prepared to present in class. Maximum Length: 2 pages.

Session 4, Sept. 20. - Newspapers and Literary Journalism, continued: The examination of the newspaper writers as they tell the story of war, particularly the writings of Crane and Richard Harding Davis. War coverage proved a durable application of the genre and we'll jump ahead to examine how modern writers have written of the deadliest of dramas.
Reading: Art of Fact: selected writings of Davis, pp. 71-75, Herr, pp. 494-506; Roberts: pp. 115-176; selected writings by Crane (handout); "Media" by Felicity Barringer, The New York Times, Feb. 8, 1999 (handout); "Black Hawk Down" by Mark Bowden, (first installment/chapter), Philadelphia Inquirer web page: http://www.philly.com/packages/somalia/nov16/default16.asp
Class Presentation: Team presentation on Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War. The presentation should address: the author's background and place in journalism, the work's significance as part of the genre and how the work fits or doesn't fit the literary journalism mold, citing specific examples from the work.
Session 5, Sept. 27 - Journalist and Novelist: We explore the journalism that shaped
some of the century's greatest novelists.
Reading: Roberts: pp. 177-210; Art of Fact: selected writings of Ernest Hemingway, pp. 411-416, and John Hersey, pp. 111-114; Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century: "Hemingway's Permanent Records" by Ronald Weber (handout); "Swiss Avalanches" by Ernest Hemingway, The Toronto Star Weekly, Jan. 12, 1924 (handout).

Class Presentation: Team presentation on John Hersey's Hiroshima. The presentation should address: the author's background and place in journalism and literature, the work's significance as part of the genre and how the work fits or doesn't fit the literary journalism mold, citing specific examples from the work.

Session 6, Oct. 4 - The Writer Magazines: The New Yorker and Esquire. In mid-century, literary journalism blossoms in the great magazines, particularly The New Yorker. We explore the formula that remains the standard for magazine journalism today.
Reading: Literary Journalism: " The Rivermen" by Joseph Mitchell, pp. 35-73; Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century: "Joseph Mitchell and The New Yorker Nonfiction Writers" by Norman Sims (handout); "Joe Mitchell's Secret" by Mark Singer, The New Yorker, March, 1999 (handout); "A Quieter New Yorker" by Alex Kuczynski, The New York Times, June 28, 1999 (handout).

Assignment: Tape record a friend, family member or news source with the aim of telling a narrative through a monologue. Edit the piece down to no more than two pages, double spaced. Can be on any topic but the goal is to engage the reader with a story and an authentic voice. Use Mitchell's "The Rivermen" as a model. Be prepared to present in class.

Session 7, Oct. 18 - The Magazines, continued. .
Reading: Art of Fact: "Portrait of Hemingway" by Lillian Ross, pp. 129-142; "Hemingway Told Me Things" by Lillian Ross, The New Yorker, May 24, 1999 (handout);. "The Intimate Story is Told at Last" by Janny Scott, The New York Times, May 7, 1998 (handout); Art of Fact: "The Earl of Louisiana" by A.J. Liebling, pp. 258- 270; Literary Journalism: "First Family of Astoria" by Calvin Trillin, pp. 75-95.

Assignment: Senior project synopsis due. Be prepared to discuss in class.

Session 8, Oct. 25 - The New Journalism: Although not as "new" as some have suggested, the "New Journalism" of the 1960s marked at least a turn in the road, shattering conventions in form, style and voice. We'll examine the movement and some of its stars.
Reading: Other Voices: The New Journalism in America: "The New Nonfiction, Brain Candy and Beyond," by Everette Dennis and William L. Rivers (handout); A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism: "Tom Wolfe, " by Richard A. Kallan (handout); Art of Fact: "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," pp. 169-182, and "The Girl of the Year," pp. 469-479, by Tom Wolfe, Art of Fact: "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote, pp. 161-168.

Class Presentation: Team presentation on Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. The presentation should address: the author's background and place in journalism and literature, the work's significance as part of the genre and how the work fits or doesn't fit the literary journalism mold, citing specific examples from the work.

Session 9, Nov. 1 - The New Journalism, continued.
Reading: Art of Fact: "It's an Honor" by Jimmy Breslin, pp. 466-469; "Los Angeles Notebook" by Joan Didion, pp. 480-485; "The Armies of the Night" by Norman Mailer, pp. 290-301; "The Silent Season of a Hero" by Gay Talese, pp. 143-160.

Assignment: Write a first person narrative to describe a scene or an event, using New Journalism techniques and Mailer's "The Armies of the Night" as a model. Be prepared to present in class. Maximum Length: 2 pages.

Session 10, Nov. 8 - Gonzo and Other Forms: The New Journalism reached its outrageous apex in the "journalism" of Hunter S. Thompson, and the magazine he wrote for, Rolling Stone. But in many American cities there was another blossoming of the so-called "alternative" press. We'll examine these borderlands.
Reading: A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism: "Hunter S. Thompson" by Arthur J. Kaul (handout); Art of Fact: "The Scum Also Rises" by Hunter S. Thompson, pp. 302-315; "From Underground to Alternative: Peace Signs to Dollar Signs" by Abe Peck, Media Studies Journal, fall, 1998 (handout); A Trumpet to Arms, Chapters 1 & 2, by David Armstrong (handout).

Assignment: Write a two-page critique of a recent edition (focusing on one or more articles) of an alternative newspaper. Reflect how the publication departs from mainstream journalism or fits in the genre of literary journalism. Bring a copy of the publication or articles to class and be prepared to discuss your research.

Session 11, Nov. 15 - The School of McPhee. No nonfiction writer in the post-New Journalism era has had as much influence as John McPhee who set a standard in immersion reporting and in descriptive writing. In this session and the next, we'll examine some of McPhee's work, that of his acolytes and others.
Reading: The John McPhee Reader: "Introduction" by William L. Howorth (handout) Art of Fact: "The Pine Barrens" by John McPhee, pp. 484-493; Literary Journalism: "Atchafalaya," pp. 409-467.
Session 12, Nov. 22 - Immersion reporting continued:
Reading: Literary Journalism: "The Mountains of Pi" by Richard Preston, pp. 111-151; Art of Fact: "What It Takes: The Way to the White House" by Richard Ben Cramer, pp. 236-241, and "The American Man at Age Ten" by Susan Orlean, pp. 97-109.

Class Presentation: Team presentation on Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. The presentation should address: the author's background and place in journalism and literature, the work's significance as part of the genre and how the work fits or doesn't fit the literary journalism mold, citing specific examples from the work.

Session 13, Nov. 29 - Class Presentations on Senior Projects.

Session 14, Dec. 6 - Class Presentations on Senior Projects.

Session 15, Dec. 7 - If needed, to complete presentations.

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