Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Political Journalism: The Biden Era

ENGL 162.301
instructor(s):
W 1:45-4:45pm

Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor of The Washington Post, once said that political journalism is “the first rough draft of history”—an opportunity to report and write about the tumultuous civic life of this nation as it happens in real time.

Indeed, national politics is a 24/7 staple on streaming sites, on social media, and in the minds of tens of millions of Americans who struggle to make sense of the noisy news overload. Political journalists have a great challenge: seemingly by the hour, they are tasked with making smart judgments, supporting their analyses with empirical reportage, and communicating those judgments in clear language. They have to cut through the clutter and engage the reader—smartly, and entertainingly—in a climate where journalists are still derided in some circles as “enemies of the people.” And in this era of “alternative” facts, even the dictionary definition of “truth” is widely under assault.

Political journalists are tasked with holding the new Biden administration accountable—properly so, as traditional watchdogs—while still seeking to cover the Trump movement-in-exile without amplifying its misinformation. Students in this course will get a taste of these challenges, while tackling some broader issues, such as: is objective “both sides” journalism up to the task of watchdogging an era when democracy itself is under serious threat?

So this course could not be more timely.

Only true “junkies” of national politics—and those who aspire to write about it—are likely to love this course, which challenges students to write in two formats that are often difficult to delineate: “news analysis” (which assesses the meaning of events, without editorial advocacy) and “commentary” (an opinion column). Students who are passionate about writing and politics will track the national news week by week and write timely posts that will be workshopped in class.

At a time when Americans are more awash in political news than ever, the goal of this course is to help students master the craft of writing clear, responsible, incisive, substantive, and engaging political journalism—and backing it up with factual research/reporting. The hope is that students can develop their “earned voice” via effective writing, effective reporting, and, above all, effective thinking.