A proposed curriculum for graduate study in Interpretive Journalism: an S&R special report

Part four in a series.

I hope that by this stage of the discussion a few fundamental points are evident:

  1. Traditional journalism – the institutional form that most of us grew up with and the codes that governed it – is in decline. For a variety of factors it has lost (or is rapidly losing) its place as the dominant means by which information is transmitted in our culture, and in the process its capacity to help shape public opinion in a productive manner has been gravely undermined.
  2. Blogging and other forms of alternative journalism have assumed a dramatically important role in the news and information transmission processes formerly served by legacy media. This trends seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
  3. While not perfect in execution, traditional journalism operated according to a set of professional and ethical codes that sought to establish “the news” as an “objective” (more or less unbiased) function. Additionally, the news sector provided, either through programs in journalism schools or via on-the-job training, essential grounding in information gathering, analysis and presentation principles.
  4. No similar codes govern alternative media, nor are there mechanisms designed to provide alt/media and bloggers with requisite newsgathering and reporting skills.
  5. The results of these shifts in our information landscape are not uniformly productive.

Whether you agree with all (or most, or any) of the arguments I’ve made in this series, it would be hard to deny that our emerging alternative media (and those who get their information about the world from these sources) would be well served if the reporters and writers we read were more capable at finding, parsing, interpreting and articulating.

To this end, I developed a curriculum, while a professor at my former university, for a graduate program in Interpretive Journalism. This program pays close attention to the basics and provides students with broad opportunities to explore and grow around these core competencies within a “subjectivist” context.

Below are the nuts and bolts of that proposed program.

Proposed Graduate Curriculum in Interpretive Journalism

  • Coursework: 36 semester hours to completion.
  • Weblog: since this program will be dedicated to cultivating a public voice for its students, all candidates will be required to maintain a weblog for the duration of their time in the program. This blog will be treated as a gradeable component of all classes.
  • Graduate thesis: may take the form of either a substantial scholarly/critical work or an extended studio work (non-fiction book, documentary, etc.)

Program Requirements

  • Proseminar (3)
  • Ethics (3)
  • Research (3)
  • New Journalism or Literary Journalism (3)
  • One Group C (3)
  • One Group D (3)
  • Thesis (9)
  • Electives (9) – any course not taken as a requirement may be taken as an elective.

Courses Offered


  • Proseminar
  • Ethics
  • Research


  • New Journalism
  • Literary Journalism


  • Print
  • Broadcast
  • Online Journalism
  • Documentary


  • Creative Nonfiction (Literary Journalism)
  • New Journalism
  • Feature Writing
  • Investigative Reporting
  • Opinion Writing
  • Creative Writing


  • Special Topics (Author, Genre)
  • Independent Study
  • Advanced Ethics: Subjectivism
  • Subjectivism and Culture

Course Descriptions

Proseminar in American Journalism
Survey of the history, theory, institutions and practice of journalism in America, with particular emphasis on the traditions that have shaped subjective, advocacy, community, new and literary journalism.

Seminar in the ethics of journalism focusing on the construction of a socially responsible code for the practice of advocacy journalism.

Research methods for the communications practitioner and scholar. Interview skills, computer-assisted reporting, online research, as well a substantial component devoted to understanding and interpreting the claims of social and scientific research, quantitative and qualitative methods.

New Journalism
Historical survey focusing on the journalism end of the literature/journalism spectrum. Focus on figures like Capote, Thompson, Wolfe, O’Rourke, etc.

Literary Journalism
Historical survey focusing on the literature end of the literature/journalism spectrum. Focus on figures like Crane, Hemingway, Steinbeck, etc.

Seminar examining the history and contemporary role of subjectivism in print journalism.

Seminar examining the history and contemporary role of subjectivism in broadcast journalism.

Online Journalism
History and culture of online journalism and blogging.

Seminar examining the history and contemporary role of subjectivism in documentary film making, with special attention being paid to figures like Michael Moore.

Creative Nonfiction (Literary Journalism)
Writing workshop.

New Journalism
Writing workshop.

Feature Writing
Writing workshop.

Investigative Reporting
Writing workshop and practicum.

Opinion Writing
Writing workshop.

Creative Writing
Writing workshop.

Special Topics (Author, Genre)
As dictated by faculty.

Independent Study
Available for students with a legitimate scholarly or creative interest in subject area not covered by scheduled course offerings. Subject to approval by graduate curriculum committee.

Advanced Ethics: Subjectivism
Advanced ethics seminar devoted to intensive study of subjective ethical codes.

Subjectivism and Culture
Seminar examining the broader cultures surrounding the practice of journalism – audiences, professional ideologies, online culture, etc.

Thesis Research
Required in second, third and fourth semesters. Student should identify a thesis focus by the mid-point of second semester in program and demonstrate progress toward thesis in each semester thereafter.

No graduate curriculum produces Pulitzer-ready journalists in two years, but a program like the one proposed here would doubtless go a long way toward orienting the graduate toward the issues, forms, practices and ethical challenges of whatever our complex new media landscape. For better or worse, journalism is evolving. It’s critical that J schools around the country accept this reality and begin evolving with it. Only then can they make the kinds of important contributions to our culture that they have in the past.A failure to adapt and evolve will, in short order, render them irrelevant in the minds of future students and journalists.Up next: The ball is rolling … sort ofPreviously


Now playing: Blonde Redhead – Silently

5 replies »

  1. If I had gone into a school of journalism, my theses would have been a study in the value American journalism places in the lives of various people. The metric would be how much ink different people get for dying. Since death is the great equalizer, it would be a good baseline to judge how “newsworthy” someone is.

    The study would range from world leaders to local obituaries. How the person dies would be taken into account; so would the distance from the publication. “Group deaths”, whether natural or man-made calamities, would also be looked into. This way one can compare how the 4th estate sees how Iranian earthquake victims would stack up against Ronald Reagan or Anna Nicole.

    An added dimension that would fit into your Interpretive Journalism, Sam, would be to compare the value that the blogosphere places on these people compared to newspapers. I’m guessing technorati could be helpful here.

  2. Matriculate me!

    On a related matter, here’s Seymour Hersh in a new interview:

    “There is an enormous change taking place in this country in journalism. And it is online. We are eventually — and I hate to tell this to The New York Times or the Washington Post — we are going to have online newspapers, and they are going to be spectacular. And they are really going to cut into daily journalism. “