Wednesday, June 23, 2010


JOU 6309
in Journalism as Literature
3020 Weimer Hall
Tuesday 4:05 – 7:05 p.m.

Dr. Ronald R. Rodgers
3053 Weimer 
Phone: 352–392–8847

The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read.
Oscar Wilde (1891)
This course lies at the crossroads of journalism and literature. During the next 15 weeks we will explore the journalistic, historical and critical tangents that make up the notion of literary journalism as we read and analyze some of the best reportage ever written. In the process of reading the works of many fine journalists, we will weigh how form and content work together to create great factual literature.

This course will look back as far as the 18th century at some of the literary antecedents to what Tom Wolfe – and others before and after him – have called the "New Journalism." We will then read and analyze the works of many different literary journalists and commentators on literary journalism  from the 19th century to our present day.
If nothing else, I hope this course will disabuse you of Mr. Wilde's notion that journalism is unreadable. I know from my own experience – even as a former English Lit major – that these days I am more wont to read nonfiction than fiction. In fact, I know of one scholar who has noted that the New York Review of Books offers three reviews of nonfiction to every one review of fiction. Certainly, not all of that nonfiction would be classified as literary journalism, but this does show you that fact–based journalism is the 600–pound gorilla of genres.

What we are interested in here is content – namely the writing of nonfiction using the techniques of the fictionists – a radical – and, some would say, an ill-conceived departure from journalistic norms.

This course has a six-pronged approach. It is a smorgasbord of delectables – all, or any one of which, I hope, you will find tasty. We will explore:
  1. Literary journalism's historical antecedents – or should we say founders?
  2. Literary journalism's future in the age of the connected computer.
  3. The criticism literary journalism has received from friend and foe alike.
  4. The theory behind this genre.
  5. The techniques that comprise and define this genre.
  6. Ways of toppling the inverted pyramid in developing our own individual writing styles using the techniques of literary journalism.

Everything we do in this course – the readings, my minimal lecture, your maximal discussion, the analysis and the writing – are intended to give you a historical perspective of journalism in general and its importance in society – especially as an armature for democracy, and especially literary journalism's ability to connect the multiple subjectivities in a multifarious society.

So, how will we do this? The answer is simple, the doing is difficult.
By reading and writing and reading and writing. For more, if you agree to accept this mission, read on.

I am available to you this semester – and beyond – to talk about this class, to talk about journalism and communications, to talk about your career, or to just talk. My office hours are listed on my schedule:
  • Link to my schedule
  • Or just stop by – my door is pretty much always open, and if I am in and I am free, we can talk.
  • You should also note that I check my e-mail  once in the morning and once in the evening  Monday  through Friday
o   The Bottom of the Harbor by Joseph Mitchell
o   Dispatches by Michael Herr
o   Hells Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
o   Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
o   The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
o   The Right Stuff  by Tom Wolfe
o   The Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer
o   Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
o   Picture  by Lillian Ross
o   Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (Excerpt & interview)
  • Other selected readings, to be handed out in class or by Web links.
  • Also, familiarize yourself with the Nieman Narrative Digest, which contains good examples of contemporary literary journalism and some excellent essays on the craft, and – a curated collection of great longform pieces formatted for single-click saving into Instapaper (but you can read on browser).
  • Finally, log in to the e-Learning Support Services web site at If you use bookmarks in your browser, this is the page to bookmark. You must have a valid GatorLink ID (username and password) to log in to e-Learning. We will be working on most assignments in and out of class through e-Learning. Keep in mind I will be putting deadline times on submissions and at a certain point the system will mark your work late or will not even accept it.
This course will be conducted as a reading seminar, one of many you will encounter as a graduate student. So you must first be here and then also be prepared to participate in the class discussion. Lack of preparation is reflected in your participation, and in my book, lack of preparation is nearly the same as being absent from class and will be graded in the same way. By the end of 15 weeks, I will have a pretty good handle on  who participates and who does not. It is essential that you complete all the assigned readings for each class meeting. We may not discuss every reading in class, but you will be responsible for all the readings.
WRITTEN WORK (Assignments with due dates in e–Learning)

NOTE: I may cancel class a time or two and hold small-group meetings to discuss and hone your papers. I will announce when.

You are expected to participate in this class. That means you bring in your questions each week, offer your ideas about the subject, allow other people to express their views, respect others' opinions and exchange ideas that will make us better readers and writers. Seminar discussions require a fine balance. On the one hand, you do not want to to take over the conversation. On the other hand, you do not want to let others do all the talking. If you go on and on (and I am often guilty of this, too, as my passion for a subject will over–ride my self–editor), I will politely cut you off.
  • 40% Final Research Paper. This includes your grades on the first  three stages of  this paper and your paper presentation.
  • 25% Blog Assignments.
  • 25% Final Non–Fiction Story.
  • 10% Attendance / Participation / Classroom Demeanor / Discussion / Other Writing  Assignments / the Quality of Your Cookies.
Grade Scale
(See Grades and Grading Policies re UF's new policy on minus grades)

A = 100 to 93 B+ = 89–87 C+ = 79–77 D+ = 69–67 E = 59–0
A– = 92–90 B = 86–83 C = 76–73 D = 66–63

B– = 82–80 C– = 72–70 D– = 62–60
If you fail to meet deadlines for turning in work, the penalty is severe. A zero on blog assignments and an automatic deduction of one letter grade for each day late on the three writing stages, and the final paper and story.
Class attendance is required. More than one unexcused absence will result in a minimum deduction of one letter–grade from your attendance and participation grade. More than two will result in the same deduction from your overall grade.  Hey, this class only meets once a week. Arriving or leaving early will be considered an absence. Excused absences include documented medical excuses and religious observances (with advanced notice). Please contact me before class.  University–approved absences must be documented (in advance, if for an approved university activity) according to official university policy. Obtaining written verification for an excused absence is your responsibility, as is arranging to complete any missed work.

Please let me know immediately if you have any kind of problem or disability that would hinder your work in this course. I will do my best to help you. Students requesting classroom accommodation must first register with the Dean of Students Office, which will provide documentation to the student who must then provide this documentation to the Instructor when requesting accommodation.
See links on front page of my website.
Commit yourself to honesty and integrity if you haven’t already. If you engage in any form of academic misconduct, including, but not limited to, cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, and aiding and abetting, the penalties could be severe, including dismissal from this class.

Everything you turn in should be your own work and not that of others. Remember, I have access to the Internet, too. Sources need to be cited. All interpretations, unless cited, should also be your own. If I find that anything you submit was done by someone else, or you use exact words without setting them off with quotation marks, or you imply that an interpretation from a source is your own without crediting the source, you  have committed plagiarism and will, at the minimum,  fail this course. You are required  to read Academic Honesty. I will work under the assumption that you have done so. For a more official elaboration of ethical conduct, see the Honor Code. For your edification, go to  and read the discussion on plagiarism. This is requred reading, and I will work on the assumption that you have done so and understand the content there.
Sometimes a class such as this will deal with controversial topics, so be warned that words that may be considered offensive or ideological may be spoken in the context of the subjects we are discussing. As a teacher, I have no political or social agenda, so do not try to answer in a way you believe might comport with what I want to hear or read. Feel free to advocate any position as long as you remain respectful of others' opinions, and always be able to defend your point of view.

Turn them off.  

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