English CAJR. Investigations: Journalism and Social Justice

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Day & Time: Wednesday 3-5:45pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website
The former executive editor of The New York Times is offering an advanced seminar on investigative journalism and social justice. Going back to the famous Muckrakers of the early 1900s, investigative journalists have exposed social injustice. Their work has inspired change in laws and public attitudes.  By holding powerful people and institutions accountable, investigative journalism has been important instrument of social change.

Readings will include The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a deep investigation of slavery’s legacy and racism’s impact on American life, including economic inequality, mass incarceration, police killings, red-lining, evictions, re-segregation of school systems and wide health care disparities. The 1619 Project and its creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Public Service

Besides the Project, other works on the syllabus include, among others, Ta Nehisi Coates on reparations, Ida B. Wells on lynching, Bill Dedman’s Pulitzer-winning account of red-lining in Atlanta, Andrea Elliot’s exploration of homelessness in New York City, Nikole Hannah-Jones examination of the re-segregation of schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Pro-Publica’s probe into high mortality rates among Black mothers during childbirth. The class will also study the methodology, reporting and writing challenges faced by The Washington Post and The Guardian in undertaking national investigations of police killings.

With the 2020 presidential campaign looming we will also focus on the role of race in the campaigns of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

The class will be multi-platform and multi-media including assignments of documentaries, such as “13th” and podcasts such as “Still Processing.” Outside speakers will include some of the journalists whose work we explore. They will Zoom into class as frequently as possible.

Students will become skilled in the basics of investigative reporting, including how to use public documents, how to build sources, and how to conduct interviews (remotely and in-person). Students will learn the basic rules of ethical journalism and apply them to their work.

There will be bi-weekly writing assignments and each student will produce a major investigative reporting project. Grades will be based on writing assignments, class engagement and analysis of readings. The final project will weigh heavily on final grades.

Prior experience in journalism or published articles are not required. Love of great writing that performs a social good is the main prerequisite.

Supplemental Application Information: Please include with your application a letter telling me how you consume news, through social media, Websites, video, podcasts or print publications. Please also address why you are interested in journalism and tell me whether you have had any reporting experience. (No experience is required). A writing sample is optional for this course application.