Spring 2014 

Tom Pennington  Raid in Samarra No appointment necesssary: Mon. 2-3  / Wed. 2-3
and by appointment Thursday 1:30-3 and Friday 10-10:45

Course Description
Calendar of Readings
Web Links
Course Policies

Links to Help You With Your Writing

This course is an upper-division English elective which examines the development of mainstream and alternative American journalism from the mid 20th century to the present.  We will examine American nonfiction and news reporting dealing with three areas:  narratives on urban poverty and juvenile crime;
reports of war and foreign correspondence; and experimental renderings of border zones and transnational urban spaces.

As the title of this course suggests, our method will be to apply both a literary and a journalistic lens to the form of contemporary nonfiction commonly termed "reportage."  That is, we will focus on  nonfiction narratives based upon a strong foundation in reporting, and we will emphasize the newsgathering, aesthetic and interpretive strategies informing them. Therefore, though will start by acquainting ourselves with mainstream journalistic notions like "the story" or "objectivity"--and pay close attention to the reporting techniques, sources, and gaps within and behind news narratives--this is really not a course in "how to be a journalist," nor a creative writing course, even though the skills we pursue are transposable to both fields. Rather, we'll be developing skills as critical readers of reportage, examining the methods, cultural assumptions, and literary toolkits that enter into such reporting, and how these matters affect the resulting interpretations of social issues they provide.  Therefore, students will be asked to think critically both about the truth value of what they read and about the different literary styles of journalistic representation used to create these truth claims.  (If you'd like a look at an omnibus web site that gives you a sense of the larger scope of this varied field, click here .)

This course is open to all majors.  That being said, it is designed as an advanced elective (not an introductory course). Therefore, students should  be ready to think critically about journalistic practice, and to apply the critical/theoretical essays the course places alongside its central journalistic texts. In other words, be ready to think theoretically, and--especially--to move beyond familiar notions of what journalists do or don't do. At the start of the course, we will certainly
learn about customary expectations from news readers, and the dominant professional norms at work in much of contemporary reporting; we will also discuss the tricky business of a journalist's relationships with his or her sources and subjects.  But before long, we move into alternative and experimental modes of journalistic representation, and many of the conventions we began with will no longer apply. For all these reasons, the course may be best suited to students with some experience in literary interpretation, and to those also willing to think across disciplines (to accept, for instance, that even "sociological" texts have literary conventions behind them, or that even the most mundane forms of reporting might also have literary dimensions). This is therefore a course well-suited to current or potential students choosing to minor in American Studies, and in other interdisciplinary programs.

Course Requirements


This is a Blackboard course, and consequently several of the secondary and theoretical readings will be in the Course Readings section of our Blackboard site. If you can, be sure to print out and bring to class readings that we will be discussing on particular days (for instance, Finnegan's "Doubt").  In the meantime, the following course texts have been ordered from the BC Bookstore (ISBN numbers in following).
  1. Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer (9780679731832)
  2. Alex Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here (9780385265560)
  3. Emma Larkin, Finding George Orwell in Burma (9780143037118)
  4. Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (9780374525644)
  5. Michael Herr, Dispatches  (we will only be reading selections, and I will try to put them on Blackboard. But I still recommend buying this book) (9780679735250)
  6. John Hersey, Hiroshima (please be sure to buy the edition with the final chapter "Aftermath") (9780679721031)
  7. Dexter Filkins, The Forever War (9780307279446)

    Joan Didion's book Salvador (9780307787361) will be made a possible source for paper topics, and  you may therefore want to purchase it (though these sections, like other readings listed below, will be on our Blackboard site).

Calendar for Spring 2014

James Nachtwey
Dates denote days by which you should have done the reading. (W) means material you can download from Blackboard;  (HO) designates in-class handouts.
Mon. 13     Opening Day:  Introduction to the Course

Prologue:  Writers and Their Subjects

Wed. 15      Lecture:  Reading the News
 Required background reading:  Gaye Tuchman,  "Objectivity as  Strategic Ritual" (W), and Robert Manoff, "Writing the News by Telling the Story" (both on Blackboard)

Going forward, I'd also like  you to view "The Year of Living Dangerously," which will be shown on BC Cable Jan. 15 thru Jan. 22: Noon & 8:00pm, Channel 52.   O'Neill's Media Center also has a copy of this film.

Fri. 17     Discussion: William Finnegan "Doubt" (W)

Wed. 22  Discussion:  Finnegan, "Doubt" (2)
Fri.  24  Discussion:  Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer

Mon.  27  Malcolm, 2   (Please note that our Blackboard site also has Joe McGinniss' response to Janet Malcolm.)

Wed. 29  Ted Conover, selection from Newjack (W)

Fri. 31   
Barbara Ehrenreich, "Serving in Florida" (W)

Underworld Explorations

Mon. 3  Lecture: Representing Poverty:  The Country of the Poor

       If you'd like to see updated material on the current state of U.S. poverty, please consult the folder "Additional Poverty Readings," on our Blackboard site.  Or look at the current "official" sites below.
Side-Bar:  The U.S. Census Bureau on Poverty in the U.S.  Click Here
Side-Bar:  Health and Human Services on Poverty Thresholds.  Click Here.
For Readings on the "how" of representing poverty in writing, you are free to consult:  Judith Goode on How Urban Ethnography Counters Myths about the Poor (W)
Wed. 5    (Snow Day)

Fri. 7 
Discussion: Panel #1   Kotlowitz, There Are No Children Here

Mon. 10
Discussion:  Kotlowitz (2)     
Wed. 12   Discussion:  Kotlowitz (3)

    First short Paper Due Thursday at 5 PM.

Fri. 14 
Discussion Panel #2:   Finnegan, "Work Boy"    (W)   

Mon. 17
Discussion:  Work Boy (2)     

Wed. 19
  Discussion:  Work Boy (3)     

Border Crossings: War Correspondence

Required Background Reading: Daniel Hallin and Tod Giltlin on the Gulf War (W); Mark Pedelty reading, "A Team B Team," from War Stories (W); and Ernie Pyle, "PFC Tommy Clayton" (W).  I would also like you to view "The Fog of War" over the next couple of weeks--see our scheduled discussion date below.

Fri. 21  Lecture:  Writing War  

Mon. 24 Discussion: John Hersey, Hiroshima (1)

Wed. 26  Discussion, Hiroshima  (2)

Fri. 28   NO CLASS

Spring Vacation

Mon. 10  Discussion: Hersey (3) "The Aftermath"
Wed. 12 
Lecture:   Mapping the "Correspondent" / Vietnam and Beyond
Fri. 14 Workshop (Panel #3):  Michael Herr, Dispatches

Mon. 17 Discussion
:  The Fog of War"  
Wed. 19 
Discussion: Dispatches 2
    Thursday, March 20  Second Paper Due at 2 PM

Fri. 21 Discussion: Dispatches  3

National UnWindings, Transnational Rewindings

Mon. 24   Lecture:  Thinking Transnationally/ Crossing Genre Borders

Wed. 26  Discussion:  selections from George Packer's Writings

            March 26, 7 PM.  Required:  Lowell Lecture Series by George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America

Fri. 28   Discussion   Packer, 2

Mon. 31 
Discussion: Panel #4 : Dexter Filkins, The Forever War

 Wed. 2  Filkins, 2

Fri. 4    Filkins, 3

Mon. 7   Discussion: George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant"
Wed. 9
Discussion Panel #5:  Larkin, Finding George Orwell in Burma
Fri. 11  Discussion:  Larkin 2

Monday 14
NO CLASS  (instead, I'll be holding conference times to help  you on  your final paper)

               Tuesday, April 15:  Third paper due at 5 PM

Wed. 16 Discussion: Larkin 3
Fri. 18   No Class  Easter Break

Mon. 21  No Class  Patriot's Day
Wed. 23 
Discussion: Panel #6 : Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You  -1-
Fri. 25  Fadiman -2-

Mon. 28 
Fadiman  -3-
Wed. 30  LAST CLASS DAY  Brief Wrap-up Lecture    Exam Preview

Some Useful Links in American Journalism that May Help your Paper Writing:

Course Policies:

1.    Class attendance is required.  For this course, you are allowed three cuts  (hereby defined as an "unexcused absence") without penalty.  But excessive absence and tardiness can lower your overall course grade--and, in some cases, be grounds for failing the course altogether.  If there is a  good reason why you have had to miss a class, please don't hesitate  to tell me, and for illness, just bring me a signed medical slip and your absence won't be counted.   After the first weeks, we'll be using an attendance sheet sign-in to save time.  Repeated tardiness is also disruptive of the class, and will "add up" to absences over time.
    Please note:  If you are a student with a documented disability seeking reasonable accommodations in this course, please contact Kathy Duggan, (617) 552-8093, at the Connors Family Learning Center regarding learning disabilities, or Paulette Durrett, (617) 552-3470, in the Disability Services Office regarding all other types of disabilities.

2.      Class participation will account for about 20% of your grade.  Generally, I try to use your class participation as a measure of how well you have read and understood the assignments.  But only in cases of excessive absence or tardiness can your class participation grade  "pull down" your final grade average.  On the other hand, if your participation reflects strong reading skills, consideration for others' viewpoints,  and consistent contributions to the flow of discussion, your  class "average" from your papers can easily be boosted at  the close of the semester--indeed, even beyond the weight of this 20%  guideline.  Days on which you "kick off" class discussion or are part of a panel discussion will not be graded on the spot, but added into your overall in-class performance.
    Generally speaking, in a class that is based largely on discussion, open laptops are an impediment to full participation: it's hard to read your keyboard, your screen, and your own thoughts while listening to others. So if I sense that this kind of thing is happening to you, I may call you on it, and ask you not to open your laptop.  And it goes without saying that emailing or texting or any cell phone use is not acceptable during class. If you are discovered texting, you will be asked to leave the classroom and given an unexcused absence for that day.  And please remember to turn off your phones when you arrive at class.

3.      When you submit a paper, it should be neatly typed or word- processed and double-spaced, preferably on both sides of the  paper so that we can save a few trees.  In addition, you are required  to keep either a xerox or carbon copy.  That way, if your paper  is lost, you can simply re-submit your copy.  I'm sorry to say that I cannot accept email submissions without advance permission. Papers are considered "submitted" when they arrive in hard copy.

 4.      Papers are due on the assigned dates.  My rule is that I allow  24 hours leeway without penalty; after that, you will be penalized  about 1/3 grade for every part of 24 hours the paper is late.   The idea of this "leeway" period is that you should never miss  a class in order to type a paper; come to class, and turn the  paper in later.  Any paper submitted after 5 days without advance permission will automatically be assigned an "F." But submitting any such paper is still a requirement of the class.  Please turn your papers into my office, Stokes S417, not my department mailbox.

5.    Everyone should feel that office hours are for "hashing out" class discussions, lectures, and the progress of the course  generally.  If you feel confused, bored, unchallenged, or otherwise distressed, please come see me; we may also conduct a mid-course evaluation to gather up your input.  If my office hours don't fit  your schedule, just talk to me in class about setting up another  time. One warning: given the sheer volume of messages and the differences between your schedule and mine, I normally can't respond to late-night emails until the next day. (The exception here is letting me know about any class absences you anticipate. In that case, I appreciate the advance notice). But I welcome follow-up reflections on class discussions via email; I'll try to respond thoughtfully and promptly.

6.  Boston College values the academic integrity of its faculty and its students.   It should go without saying, simply as a matter of fairness to everyone who participates in this class, that I take such matters quite seriously. All students are required to familiarize themselves with the university guidelines on integrity at the start of the course. To see those guidelines, click here.  And if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me for clarification, even if you are right in the middle of an assignment.  Violations of academic integrity are adjudicated according to the guidelines and the academic integrity committee of your school. If you are found in violation, penalties may include a failing grade as well as possible suspension, probation, or expulsion, depending on the seriousness and circumstances of the violation.

7.    This course emphasizes improving your writing.  To that end, I use a "correction guide" adapted from a handbook by Diana Hacker--a sheet which I will also hand out (though see the link below).   If you're confused by some of the symbols I use in the margins to correct your papers, you can also consult Hacker (which can also be bought in the Bookstore).  It goes without saying I would also be happy to discuss your writing with you in conference.


Conventions It's Good to Know for College Papers   

A Few Tips on Effective Quotation    

Click Here to see the Correction Code Used on Your Papers

Never Learned How to Punctuate?  Read Russell Baker's Advice

The Simplified MLA Citation System You Should Use for Documenting Your Paper  

Alas, My own Pet Peeves:  Ten Suggestions to Improve Your Writing  

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