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Political Journalism: The Presidential Primaries

ENGL 3420.301
W 1:45-4:45pm
course flyer

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 unfolds in real time. Accordingly, in this course we will spend much of our time feeding off the political news as it happens—and, during the winter and early spring of 2024, the news will indeed be tumultuous. Democrats will coalesce behind incumbent President Biden—or perhaps they won’t. Republicans, in their primaries, will move toward renominating Donald Trump—or perhaps not, given his status as a criminal defendant in multiple trials. 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 cacophonous 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 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 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 airing some broader issues, such as: Is traditionally objective “both sides” journalism up to the task of watchdogging the newsmakers in an era when democracy itself is under serious threat? Political journalism is clearly at an historic crossroads: Is it feasible to provide “balanced” coverage of two parties—when many members of one party have openly worked to undermine democracy? So this course 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. Students who are passionate about writing and politics will track the national political news week by week, and write 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 live off the news and develop their “earned voice” via effective writing, reporting, thinking, and communication.

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