Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Political Journalism: The Presidential Election

ENGL 3421.301
Wednesday 1:45-4:45pm

Ben Bradlee, a legendary Washington Post editor, 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 unfolds in real time. And it has rarely been as tumultuous as it is right now, with democracy itself on the ballot in the 2024 election. We live in an era when even the very definition of truth is widely under assault. And with the news cycle spinning faster than ever before, we will spend much of our time in this course time feeding off the news as it happens. National politics is a 24/7 staple on streaming sites, social media, and in the minds of tens of millions of Americans who struggle to make sense of the 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 must cut through the clutter and engage the reader—smartly and often entertainingly—in a climate where journalists are derided in some circles as “enemies of the people.” They must respond in real time to events, statements, and upheavals that could never have been anticipated. The students in this course will be tasked to do the same, writing pieces that will be workshopped in class. We will also get the opportunity to air broader issues: Is traditionally objective “both sides” journalism up to the task of watchdogging the newsmakers in an era when democracy itself is under serious threat? Is it feasible to provide “balanced” coverage of two parties when many members of one party, starting with its likely presidential nominee, have been openly working to undermine democracy? This course, tracking a fast-moving presidential campaign, could not be more timely. Only true “junkies” of national politics—those who follow the news closely, and those who aspire to write about it—are likely to love this course. 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 live off the news and develop their “earned voice” via effective reporting, writing, and (most important of all) thinking.

English Major Requirements
English Concentration Attributes
  • Creative Writing Workshop Course Minor (AECW)
  • Journalistic Writing Minor (AEJW)
College Attributes