Blog Assignments

This page will be updated throughout the semester with blog assignments for each of the 20 blog posts you will write. A short post on grading blog assignment is at: Our course blog, which includes a blog roll for all student blogs, can be found at
For Week 2
Blog Assignment 1 (Due by noon on Tuesday, Aug 31): This first entry is fairly simple – or maybe not. Answer the questions at the link title Who are You?
Blog Assignment 2 (Due by noon on Tuesday, Aug 31): Put together a short essay about your assigned writer from the anthology of interviews with literary journalists by Robert S. Boynton titled The New New Journalism. This book will be on reserve in the Journalism Library. Be prepared to give a class presentation that looks primarily at the author's background – what was his or education or not and how did he or she become writers –  and how does he or she report and write (some of these writers have some very unique methods). 
Blog Assignment 3 1.To some degree or another the attentive reader of Mitchell's Up In The Old Hotel  should have a sublime experience. Describe your own experience of the essay and then describe the notions of nostalgia and the brush strokes he uses to indicate the divide between past, present, and even future. React to how Louie reacted to the third floor. Here we have a guy so much entranced by the past and yet his reaction - does it seem a bit odd? If so, how so? What do you think is going on there?  2. Also after a close reading of the tornado stories, compare and contrast the techniques that each writer uses to tell the story. Do a little research on subjectivity and intersubjectivity, explain those terms and how they might apply to Bragg's story. (Due by noon on Tuesday, Aug 31):

NOTE: Always with any of these assignments, do not focus solely on the specific readings, but inform your writing by drawing on other class readings, other readings from outside this class, and from your own experience.  (For example, in thinking about Mitchell's essay, I drew on my own interest in my own family's past and my consternation about the fact that once you go back even a bit (grandparents) the past is - like the third floor - "dead air." 

For Week 3 
Blog Assignment
(Due by noon on Tuesday):
Blog 4: Consider the issue of truth in the readings for this week. Is there anything that might make you think any of these are partly or wholly made up? How was the line between fact and fiction drawn in the early days of journalism? What are the elements here that raises this journalism to something literary? You can begin with this list of elements. But I would like you to discern other elements. Come up with at least one and define it as best you can that can be added to this list. This requires a close reading and a little research. 
Also, formulate a question for the end of this blog assignment that your fellow journalists in class can attempt to answer.  

Blog 5: First, define journalistic objectivity as you understand. Second, regarding your readings this week – and then throughout the semester –  explore briefly Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and how it applies to these readings, journalism’s attempt to reflect objective reality, and anything else related to the doing of journalism in which journalists become part of a story to one degree or another – from a Boswellian disrupter  and embedded immersion on one end to fly-on-the wall (or I-as-camera) reporting techniques on the other. Can you see how even a tape-recorder can affect objective reality?  
Also, formulate a question for the end of this blog assignment that your fellow journalists in class can attempt to answer.

Here are some discussions related to the Heisenberg Principle;
From an interview with former FCC Chair Michael Powell:
OJR: Is the Internet a medium or a distribution system?
MP: Both. It is a distribution system, the most powerful one the world's yet to see, but it has a character of its own. The old Heisenberg scientific principle says you can't observe something without acting on it. In some ways, information doesn't stay the same when it's put over the Internet? The Internet changes news. Information are not numerical facts; they are words and they are subject to many interpretations.
Trauma in New Orleans: In the Wake of Katrina
Journalism is ordinarily a very aloof practice. We’re instructed to be objective. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is somehow suspended for journalism; we’re able to interact in environments without leaving any trace of ourselves on them.
How You Get That Story: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the Literature of the Vietnam War
A young marine accosts a group of American correspondents in Vietnam, among them Michael Herr. ‘‘You guys’re reporters, huh? Boy, you really get it all fucked up,’’ he growls. ‘‘My old man sends me stuff from the papers, and he thinks you’re all full of shit . . . [W]hy can’t you guys just tell it right?’’ (Herr 200). We will be reading from Herr’s Dispatches (Also, you might view this paper as a template for your own. Look at how it is done.)

For Week 4

(FYI Please address ALL questions here - leave nothing out)

Blog Assignment 6 (Due by noon on Tuesday):

Specimen Days, by Walt Whitman consists of a powerful description of a story by a reporter who was not there. Whitman, as you know, was a poet as well as a journalist. He has a strong grasp of the power of language and employs words and sentences as tools. Describe how he does this.

Meanwhile, with Dispatches, by Michael Herr - how does the chaotic kind of writing work here in Dispatches? Is it somewhat similar to the staccato style of Whitman's story?How so? And to what effect.

Might both these authors be employing organic form? Explore this notion. What do you think it might mean in relation to writing about an event?

Also, formulate a question for the end of this blog assignment that your fellow journalists in class can attempt to answer in class or through comments on your blog.

Also, no need to blog on this, but give some thought to the similarities between these different examples of writing about conflict so you can speak to this in class.

For Week 5

Blog Assignment 7 (Due by noon on Tuesday):  Consider three elements of literary journalism -- dialogue, scene-by-scene construction and status details -- and explain how Capote uses these in In Cold Blood. Give some examples that you feel are particularly telling and why. Also, explain how this reads like a novel -- he called it a "nonfiction novel" and the way he reported and wrote it "reportage" -- and how his book moves both horizontally like traditional reporting and vertically as in his reportage.  
Also, formulate a question for the end of this blog assignment that your fellow journalists in class can attempt to answer in class or through comments on your blog. NOTE: In fact, since I have seen only a handful of responses on blog, part of this assignment is to go in and answer or respond to the questions on each blog assignment.

Blog Assignment 8 (Due by noon on Tuesday): 
The following is Jimmy Breslin talking about friend and fellow writer Steve Dunleavy:
“In a time of listless reporting, he climbed stairs. And he wrote simple declarative sentences that people could read, as opposed to these 52-word gems that moan, ‘I went to college! I went to graduate school college! Where do I put the period?’ ” Take this quote -- in which, essentially, he is talking about plain style -- and think about the four writers we read this week - Wolfe, Breslin, Greene and Capote.  Who among these do you think best exemplifies what Breslin is talking about and why? Give some examples and analyze them. Then, who least follows his description of powerful but plain writing and why. Give some examples and analyze them. And even if these are not examples of plain style but border more on the eloquent, do they still work?
Also, formulate a question for the end of this blog assignment that your fellow journalists in class can attempt to answer in class or through comments on your blog. NOTE: In fact, since I have seen only a handful of responses on blog, part of this assignment is to go in and answer or respond to the questions on each blog assignment.

For Week 6

Blog Assignment 9 (Due by noon on Tuesday): I would like you to read and understand the essay titled Historical Perspective on the New Journalism by Joseph M. Webb from last week’s assignment. Then consider what he has to say about Rational Reporting vs. Romantic Reporting and apply it to the works of literary journalism you have read up to this point whether in or out of class. I find especially revealing Webb’s discussion of new journalism as reportage that views people not as rational but as “feeling, emotional, instinctual” beings and that reality is internal. Note that I have added a couple items to the list of elements of literary journalism related to this:
AND – be prepared to offer a short presentation in class about what you have concluded.
Also, formulate a question for the end of this blog assignment that your fellow journalists in class can attempt to answer in class or through comments on your blog.

For Week 7 
Blog Assignment 10  (Due by noon on Tuesday): So, after reading these examples of gonzo journalism how would you define gonzo journalism? What are some elements of gonzo - and give examples to support your assertions? Also, how are each of these writers similar and different as purported gonzo journalists? 

Blog Assignment 11 (Due by noon on Tuesday): One of the elements of literary journalism (actually of any kind of literary form) is word choice. Recall Liebling's short discussion on word choice. With that element in mind give The Scum Also Rises an especially close reading. Hint: rot, dissipation, decomposition, etc. Also, recall the Writing Well reading on leads and endings. In relation to word choice surrounding both, look at this story's beginning and ending. What is he doing here and to what effect? 

AND – be prepared to offer a short presentation in class regarding both these assignments about what you have concluded.
Also, formulate one question that your fellow journalists in class can attempt to answer in class or through comments on your blog.
For Week 8
Blog Assignment 12 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
  1. Thoroughly summarize your third book.
  2. Also explain what drew you to the book and why you wanted to read it. 
  3. Describe the plot line and any narrative threads that run through the book. 
  4. Thoroughly discuss the techniques the writer used and identify the elements of literary journalism you found in your book. 
  5. Offer evidence from your book to support these descriptions of the elements. 
  6. Offer one new element of literary journalism drawn from your book or your thoughts about literary journalism that can be added to the list linked on this class blog.
  7. Give a brief biography of your writer. 
  8. Discuss how the writer researched and reported the book. 
  9. Be prepared to give a 15 minute presentation on your book to the class on Tuesday.
  10. Finally, ask one question about your book that the class can attempt to answer both in class and on your blog.

For Week 9
Blog Assignment 13 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
The theme here is journalistic immersion, and this week I want to attempt to create a conversation around our readings. Read all of the stories, but closely read your assigned reading(s).
The readings this week are good examples of how humans have some sort of universal need to impose narrative order on events and/or social situations - which is especially important because there are those who argue that narrative is journalism's possible savior.  

In this group - close read your assigned reading but read the other two closely enough that you can discuss some of the similarities and differences of theme, techniques, and purpose in both your analysis and presentation.
Casey - Experiment in Misery, by Stephen Crane -- Page 63 
Rachel -
The People of the Abyss, by Jack London -- Page 83 
Sadie - Spike, by George Orwell -- Page 245 
Here, Ginny, we have two contemporary examples of immersion attempting to portray African-American life. Discuss some of the similarities and differences of theme, techniques, and purpose.
Ginny - Harlem on My Mind, by Lawrence Otis Graham -- Page 384 
Ginny - The Bronx Slave Market, by Marvel Cooke -- Page 252  
Here, Ben & Michelle, we have two contemporary examples of a writer's immersion into the world of marginalized individuals. I would like you to closely read. Then compare and contrast in your individual analyses while discussing some of the similarities and differences of theme, techniques, and purpose.  
Ben & Michelle - Snake Handling and Redemption, by Dennis Covington -- Page 391
Ben & Michelle - Coyotes, by Ted Conover -- Page 331
In your analysis use these as guidelines in your reading and thinking about these examples of immersion narrative nonfiction.
  1. Posit what you believe the writer's purpose is. 
  2. Describe the plot line and any narrative threads that run through the story. In some of these I am especially interested in word choice.
  3. Thoroughly discuss the techniques the writer used and identify the elements of literary journalism you found. 
  4. Offer evidence from your story to support these descriptions of the elements. 
  5. Give a brief biography of your writer - and no links to Wikepedia. 
  6. Discuss how the writer researched and reported the book and discuss the ethics of immersion. 
  7. Be prepared to give a presentation to the class on Tuesday.
  8. Finally, ask one question that the class can attempt to answer both in class and on your blog.
For Week 10 Blog Assignment 14 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
 So, for next week you are responsible each for one author that you will introduce to the rest of the class. Close read and analyze your assigned story and use the same instructions listed in Blog Assignment 13 above. There are some added links below you might want to peruse.
Ginny –  AOF Fight to Live, by Al Stump -- Page 271

Casey – AOF Day of the Fight, by W. C. Heinz -- Page 115 
David Halberstam, in the foreward to “What a Time It Was” (2001), a collection of Mr. Heinz’s sports articles, wrote that along with Red Smith, “he was a leader in what was about to become a journalistic revolution.” He continued, “He wrote simply and well — if anything, he underwrote — but he gave his readers a feel and a sense of what was happening at a game or at the fights, and a rare glimpse into the personalities of the signature athletes of the age.”

Michelle – Lethal Lightning, by Jimmy Cannon -- Page 461

Rachel – AOF Silent Season of a Hero, by Gay Talese -- Page 143  (Fly on the wall interspersed with reporting – research and sources)
Video 1 – Gay Talese on drinking and journalism
Video 2 – Gay Talese on how magazine writing is not a work of art anymore  
Gay Talese never had a chance to interview DiMaggio, but that did not stop him from writing a profile that has set the standard for all others. In fact, “The Silent Season of a Hero,” was named the greatest sports article of the Twentieth Century by David Halberstam and Glenn Stout, editors of The Best American Sports Writing of the Century:

The Art of Nonfiction No 2 Gay Talese  Paris Review Interview

Sadie – (The McPhee excerpt is just a page. What I would like you to do is introduce the class to what I consider to be our best living nonfiction writer. A couple links here that might help you in this endeavor.)
An excerpt from A Sense of Where You Are by John McPhee
See Paris Review interview with John McPhee

BenBlind Sided by History by Gary Smith 

Blog Assignment 15 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
Consider the following readings and formulate your thoughts on undercover reporting.

The ethics of undercover reporting:

From Wikipedia: “After ten days, Bly was released from the asylum at The World's behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation and brought her lasting fame. While embarrassed physicians and staff fumbled to explain how so many professionals had been fooled, a grand jury launched its own investigation into conditions at the asylum, inviting Bly to assist. The jury's report recommended the changes she had proposed, and its call for increased funds for care of the insane prompted an $850,000 increase in the budget of the Department of Public Charities and Corrections. They also made sure that all of the examinations were more thorough so that only people who were actually insane went to the asylum.”

PrimeTime Live’s decision to have producers falsify resumes and smuggle hidden cameras into a Food Lion grocery store sparked contentious litigation (an initial $5.5 million jury verdict against ABC was reduced on appeal to $2) and drew two articles in CJR (not online).”
“Ken Silverstein, the acclaimed Washington editor of Harper’s, posed as a foreign businessman to expose lobbyists’ willingness to represent unsavory clients. Silverstein came back with a gripping story and had plenty of defenders, but institutions like the Center for Public Integrity sided with The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz in criticizing his methods.”

  • “Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s was something of a golden era of undercover reporting, in no small part because of the efforts of one woman: Pam Zekman. She and her investigative crew at WBBM-TV used undercover reporting to break dozens of stories.
  • She got a job at a nursing home so she could verify allegations of filth and mistreatment made by relatives.
  • She got a job as a dance instructor to prove a local dance studio was cheating money from seniors.
  • She had a team work at an abortion clinic to prove they were performing abortions on women who weren't pregnant.
  • And she had a staffer apply for a job at the airport to see what kind of background checks they did on bag screeners.”
  • “She purchased a seedy tavern on Chicago's Near North Side with "more code violations than barstools," renamed it the Mirage Tavern, and recorded everything as a long string of officials--the fire inspector, the plumbing inspector, the ventilation inspector, the county clerk, accountants, landlords--took bribes while overlooking violations. Even the people who maintained the pinball machine dropped by to show the management how to skim profits.”
  • The article above notes that “the sting worked, but the paper’s Pulitzer hopes were dashed, reportedly because Ben Bradlee and Eugene Patterson (St. Pete Times) disapproved of its methods.”

For Week 11
Blog Assignment 16 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
Your choice this week - do one of the following two assignments:
1. AOF Morris Markey, Drift -- Page 93 This requires a close reading. Taking everything you have learned in this class about the writing of literary journalism, closely analyze this story and explain what Markey is doing with this story. This comes down to the many elements of literary journalism - including word and image choice. Also, who was Markey?
2. AOF Lady Olga, by Joseph Mitchell -- Page 439 & Little Women Look Back on Lost World by Rick Bragg: Compare and contrast these last two stories about similar subjects. Keep in mind one was written for a magazine and the other for a newspaper.
I know we meant to go over this in last class, so for a head start, talk a bit here at the end of this assignment about the kind of story you want to do. Recall that with this story I would like you to employ the elements of literary journalism that we have discussed now for several weeks. 

For Week 12
Blog Assignment 17 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
Observe a scene and write a sketch in exactly -- or as much as possible -- the style of Stephen Crane in his When Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers
Blog Assignment 18 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
Read In Defense of Literary Journalism, Avis Meyer, Nieman Reports, Autumn 1982 (4-10, 52-55) and then explain what it is Meyer is defending exactly and why?

For Week 13 
Blog Assignment 19 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
Briefly discuss Tracy Kidder and what I would call process journalism and your thoughts about it as a legitimate form. Briefly look at his other books that chronicles events or places over time. Could you see yourself doing the same kind of journalism? What are some story ideas that might fit this mold?
For reference, see:
"Tracy Kidder is no slacker. His efforts are apparent in his books (most of which, come to think of it, are about hard workers). It's not that there is anything strained about Kidder's limpid, graceful and intermittently lyrical prose. Rather, the journalistic-literary form he has chosen to pursue demands hard labor. In ''The Soul of a New Machine,'' ''House,'' ''Among Schoolchildren,'' ''Old Friends'' and now ''Home Town,'' Kidder chronicles processes or subjects that are, almost by definition, ordinary. After he chooses a subject, Kidder shows up and hangs around. Then he hangs around some more. He has the stamina and the faith to stay put almost endlessly, waiting for patterns, moments, characters, stories to emerge." 
"But being an embedded journalist is dangerous work. A journalist of engineering runs no risk of personal injury, but the project he is documenting may not have an inspiring denouement. The classic of the genre is The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder ’67, a brilliant narrative of computer engineering. But Rosenberg’s story has no conclusion—at the end of the book, the software is not ready."
"Each of Tracy Kidder's books sheds light on at least one seminal aspect of human existence -- work, technology, home, education, community, healthcare. In his impressive run as a literary journalist, he has produced eight books of narrative nonfiction that focus in great detail on a carefully chosen, seemingly small story that turns out to have much broader significance. Taken together, his work paints a multifaceted portrait of American life."

For Week 16
Blog Assignment 20 (Due by noon on Tuesday):
For your final assignment, read through the final nonfiction stories others in the class have written and comment on them through the lens of literary journalism. 
Some questions you might employ:

1. What was story paper about?
2. What literary techniques did the writer use and were they effective?
3. What was the point of view of story?
4. What worked well and why?
5. What did not work well and why?
6. What’s your favorite sentence or passage?
7. What needs work?
8. Where were you confused?
9. What did you want to hear more about?
10. What seemed out of place, too truncated, or went on for too long?