If you watched the Academy Awards this week, you probably noticed at least two things. First, that kid from Room is the cutest child in the entire universe and anyone who says otherwise is DEAD WRONG. Second, Spotlight won Best Picture!
Since investigative journalism is having such a victorious week, I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and talk a little bit about journalism right here at my own university. Princeton has a couple of well-known publications, such as The Daily Princetonian and The Nassau Weekly, but there are also opportunities to learn about journalism inside the classroom, through courses run by the Council of the Humanities. These classes are usually weekly three-hour seminars that meet in the adorable Joseph Henry House, a small butter-yellow building that was the residence of Professor Henry in the early 19th century. The Henry House is perhaps the building on campus that is most dear to me. I am in love with its creaky stairs, its sunny porch, and the little bowl of Jolly Ranchers that is always sitting in the lobby. And of course, I love it because it was home to some of the best classes I've taken at Princeton.
The first journalism class I took was Audio Journalism. It was taught by Steve Drummond, who is currently the head of NPR Ed. I had never tried radio production before, but through this class I became completely obsessed with it. Radio is an extremely effective medium for telling emotionally arresting stories. The human voice creates an automatic intimate connection between reporter and listener. It's also really fun to record your voice under a blanket in your room and then have your roommate walk in and think you're a crazy person. Professor Drummond taught us about how important concise writing is to radio, and I think my writing even for non-radio purposes has been better ever since. Plus, I produced some pieces in this class that I'll always look back fondly on. My friend Amy and I recorded a piece at a Princeton football game in which I got to make a lot of cheesy sports jokes. Honestly, someone should have stopped me.
The next class I took was Creative Nonfiction, taught by the man who essentially invented the genre, John McPhee. This class is kind of legendary at Princeton; a whole host of acclaimed journalists, novelists, and editors have come out of it. The highlights of the course are the biweekly one-on-one meetings in which Professor McPhee goes through every sentence in your piece with you. There is no one who makes you think carefully about every single word you choose quite like Professor McPhee does. Professor McPhee also invites a lot of great guests to the class. In my year, the architect who designed the Vietnam War Memorial, Maya Lin, spoke to us about her new project. We all wrote pieces about the project, and Professor McPhee sent them to Maya Lin so she could read them! He also excerpted quotes from a few of the pieces in his forward for her new book, "Topologies," which was published by Rizzoli earlier this year. (I highly recommend checking out the book, though not for the purpose of reading my contribution, which amounts to the grand total of ten sentences.)
Most recently, I took Magazine Writing with Jennifer Kahn, who has written feature pieces for the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, among other publications. We spent the majority of this course working on long feature pieces that we submitted at the end of the semester. I wrote about the recent surge in false bomb threats called into schools. I was able to interview the Princeton Public Schools superintendent, a New Jersey state senator, and a national school security expert, which was an amazing, albeit nerve-racking, experience. Additionally, throughout the semester, we were visited by several renowned magazine writers whose pieces we had read. This class was a blast not only because of the interesting subject matter, but also because Professor Kahn is incredibly funny and sweet. Our whole class became great friends, and we ended the semester with a party on that porch that I love so much. (Fun fact: Fellow blogger Aliisa was in this class as well!)
There are so many other wonderful journalism seminars that I didn't have space to write about here, but you can find out more about the journalism program at Princeton on the Council of the Humanities website. And you can read some really great pieces by my former professors, who are all infinitely better writers than I, right here, here, and here.