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Political Journalism: Prelude to the 2020 Presidential Race

ENGL 159.301
W 2-5:00

What’s the most professionally honest and effective way to cover the historically unique Trump administration? Do the traditional rules of “objectivity” work anymore, when writing about a president who breaks the norms of communication and governance? What’s the most honest and effective way to harness the technological revolution—the impact of Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of social media; the megaphone of ideological media—that has already upended the old norms of coverage?

We’ll tackle these issues by writing about the Trump White House, Congress, the nascent 2020 presidential campaign, and the tribally partisan national landscape, where even empirical facts are often deemed to be in dispute. Students will write stories in two formats: “straight” news blended with analysis; and, later, opinion commentary. The stories—posted to a closed website—will be workshopped in class.

The prime goal of this course is to help students develop political writing skills—most importantly, a respect for factual reporting, context and perspective, and informed opinion. This course will explore the daunting challenges that political journalists face when writing about polarizing topics for polarized audiences—while grappling with the thorny issues of “objectivity” and “balance,” the cultural influences of snark and irony, and the fog of “fake news.”

This course is designed to be timely, so we’ll closely monitor breaking stories as they arise. In other words, this course requires close attention to the political news—because we’ll be living off the news. And given the volatility of the 24/7 cycle, we reserve the right to improvise on this syllabus.

fulfills requirements
Elective of the Standard Major