Mark Danner

First Year Forum: Fundamentals of Journalism

Monday Eat and Meet

First Year Forum

J298 Fall 2018   Mondays 4:30 – 7:00 pm   North Gate Library

Mark Danner

This Monday evening gathering, beginning each week with a school-wide buffet at 4:15, provides a forum for class-wide conversation. Discussions will be rooted in key texts by Ida B. Wells, George Orwell, Rachel Carson, Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, Barbara Ehrenreich and others and will address the evolution of journalism, the politics of inclusion, investigative techniques, and changing business models. This class offers the space to debate pressing issues, among them the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, the increasingly partisan character of the press, the problem of under-represented voices, and the controversy over “fake news.” 

Course Lectures

Class Requirements The Forum will be a mixture of lectures, discussion and debate, backed up by a substantial amount of reading. A faithful record of attendance is critical and students who miss classes will not do well.

In general, the most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Keep up with reading assignments

*Participate in discussions and debates

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade.



Schedule Note all classes will meet Mondays in North Gate Library. The full schedule for each Monday afternoon and evening Forum looks like this:

4:30 Buffet Dinner

5:00 Class Begins

7:00 Class Ends

The first meeting is Monday, September 10.

Notetaking We ask you to take notes by hand. No open laptops will be permitted in class.

Reading Our primary reading will draw from a number of books of classic reporting. They are listed below. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified, either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them.

Our secondary reading will comprise a set of articles, one required for each class, that are intended to draw out some of the issues raised in the primary reading. Class discussions will be focused first on the primary reading at hand, then on the work’s significance for the present day. The secondary reading is intended to bring this out. Note that many of these articles do not appear on this syllabus but will be sent out closer to the class sessions where they will be discussed.

Tracking the News Though our reading draws from texts written during the past century – and in one case older than that – a good part of the class will focus on contemporary issues and how they are covered. If you don’t already, we urge you to keep up with the news by following the major newspapers, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as other daily media. We are hoping to foster informed debate on many of the issues of the day.

Expertise Sessions Interspersed among class sessions that take their departure from a classic work of journalism will be a number focusing on particular expertise, including investigative techniques, journalism’s evolving business model and the visual elements of journalism.

Writing For some classes we will ask you to bring with you to class a short piece, usually of no more than four sentences, responding to a question about the primary reading for that day.

To bolster the clarity and vigor of your English prose, I strongly suggest studying George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which can be found here:

I also strongly recommend Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style.



Office Hours I will count on meeting with many of you individually at least once during the course of the term, as will Caron. We will make these appointments on an ad hoc basis. I am best reached via email, at My office is North Gate 32. My writing, speaking and other information can be found at my website,



Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, and the quality of their written work, as follows:

Attendance            40 percent

Participation          40 percent

Writing.                 20 percent

The way to do well in this class is to show up and take part.



Required Texts

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Houghton, 2002 [1962])

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America (Picador, 2011 [2001])



Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War (Vintage, 1994)

John Hersey, Hiroshima (Penguin, 2002 [1946])

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer (Vintage, 1990)

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (Mariner, 1980 [1938])

Elena Poniatowska, Massacre in Mexico (Missouri, 1975)

Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers (Janus, 1966)

Ida B. Wells, The Light of Truth: Writings of An Anti-Lynching Crusader (Penguin, 2014 [1895])

Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men (Simon & Schuster, 2014 [1974])



Tentative Syllabus



September 10 – Investigating Massacre, Ignoring History

Mark Danner, Chancellors Professor of Journalism and English and former staff writer for the New Yorker, discusses his reconstruction of the El Mozote massacre, its suppression by officials of the Reagan administration and its relevance to today’s supposed “border crisis” of Central American immigrants. Magnum Photographer Susan Mieselas discusses her photographs of the aftermath of the massacre. Both talk about Central America then and now – and about how an event that was photographed and reported on the front pages of the nation’s two leading newspapers could have been successfully denied by the government. Who really owns the truth? And what, almost four decades later, has that truth produced?

    Required reading: Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote


                                     Mark Tseng-Putterman, “A Century of US Intervention             

                                           Created the Immigration Crisis,” Medium, 20 June 18



September 17Let’s Journalize, Let’s News

Cyrus Farivar, Senior Tech Policy Reporter for Ars Technica and author of Habeas Data and The Internet of Elsewhere, discusses, among other things, how to pull paper records and chat up grumpy bureaucrats, how to tease nuggets out of dry financials, how to decipher legalities and scrutinize the slow wheels of justice, and how to scope old internet records. A seminar at the cutting edge of investigative reporting. 

    Required reading: Short articles to be announced



September 24All The President’s Scandals, Then and Now

Mark Danner discusses what made the Watergate reporting of Woodward and Bernstein different and how it was that a metro story of a “two-bit burglary” brought down a president twenty months after he had been elected in an unprecedented landslide. Charles Ferguson, Academy Award winning director of “No End in Sight,” “Inside Job,” and “Time to Choose,” talks with Danner about his new film, “Watergate: Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out of Control President” and about Watergate’s significance for our present age of scandal. Is the Watergate model of revelation, investigation and expiation still relevant? In the Age of Trump, can journalism and government institutions still combine to produce some kind of justice?

    Required reading: Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men

October 1 – Covering War, Creating Fake News

What makes George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia a classic? Yes, there is the war reporting done from ground level, the account of the tedium and confusion of war offered by an average man who began an idealist and finished as a much more knowing actor. Wisdom is gained as much through disillusionment as education, for what Orwell found in the Spanish Civil War was not only revolution and combat but a scaffolding of lies built around what was actually happening on the ground, most of it constructed assiduously by self-described journalists and supposed eye witnesses. He returned to write a book that not only reported from the war but that also analyzed fake news, and as such Homage to Catalonia is truly a book for our time. With Spanish Civil War expert Adam Hochschild, author of Spain in Our Hearts, King Leopold’s Ghost and many other books, we will discuss Orwell’s war and the lies that surround it.

    Required reading: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

                                    ——————, “Politics and the English Language”

October 8 –  Forum’s Future – An Open Class Meeting

October 15 – Reporting the End of the World: Hiroshima and Us

A good case could be made that Hiroshima was the most influential single piece of journalism of all time, almost undermining, as it did, America’s newfound faith in a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons as the basis for global power. Before he became famous as the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg was a nuclear weapons planner, as he describes in his memoir, The Doomsday Machine. Mark Danner will discuss the reporting of Hiroshima, and Ellsberg will talk to him about the implications of the book, about America’s 70-year reliance on nuclear weapons, and the multi-trillion dollar effort to “modernize” the arsenal under the shadow of North Korea and other “emerging threats.” Ellsberg will also have a good deal to say about All The President’s Men and the implications of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.

    Required reading: John Hersey, Hiroshima



October 22 –On Racism, Colonialism and the Rise of Terror

Perhaps the greatest revolution of our age was the immense struggle of de-colonialization after World War II. Much of what came to be known as the global South moved from the direct control of the North – the colonial powers of Europe and North America – into the often nominal status of independent states, which became, during the Cold War, the so-called Third World. This new Third World emerged through violent struggles and of these none was more closely followed and well-documented than the Algerian War of Independence. In this class we will discuss and analyze that war and its consequences, including for insurgency and terrorism in our day, after a screening of Gillo Pontecorvo and Franco Solano’s classic faux documentary, The Battle of Algiers. We will consider the film’s influence not only on journalists and film makers but on insurgents, terrorists and military officers throughout the world.

     Required viewing: Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers



October 29 –Fighting For Law’s Protection, a Profession’s Inclusion

Long before Black Lives Matter there was the Civil Rights Struggle and long before that was the Anti-Lynching campaign of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Author of The Red Record and Southern Horrors, among other writings, Wells, who had been born a slave, was a fearless investigative journalist, an early Civil Rights pioneer, a newspaper owner and a founder of the NAACP. Her tireless work proved conclusively that lynching was a way to suppress all African-Americans, rather than a response to specific violations or crimes. Many of the arguments advanced today by Black Lives Matter and similar movements can be seen clearly in embryo in her work. We will discuss the life and work of Wells and trace her work’s influence on contemporary politics and contemporary journalism, with special attention to the problem of inclusion.

    Required reading: Ida B. Wells, The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader, pp. xix-xxxi, 1-145, 211-334



November 5 –Immersing Yourself, Becoming the Other

Journalism depends dramatically on sympathy, the ability to understand another’s point of view and convey it, in words, images, voices, to an audience. One method, extending back at least to Tolstoy or perhaps Xenophon, is immersion: a writer becomes the other and thus dramatizes both her distance and her proximity. What is it like to live life as one of the “working poor,” for example, a woman who works maniacally hard over punishing hours but can barely earn a living? One way to answer is to take such a low-wage job and find out, and then describe the results vividly to the reader. With Deirdre English we will discuss and analyze how Barbara Ehrenreich, a middle class journalist, “becomes” one of the working poor and how similar methods might work, or not work, in covering Obamacare and other issues today.

    Required reading: Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

November 12 – Class Canceled  Reporting the Poisoning, and Warming, of the World

No single piece of environmental reporting has been more influential than Rachel Carson’s study of the dangers of pesticides, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT. It is fair to say the book created modern environmental reporting, whose effect has been, however, distinctly mixed. In this session, with the help of writer Rebecca Solnit, (invited but not confirmed) we will study Carson’s work and try to weigh her achievement, while tracing her legacy, in which a rapidly warming world is studied, reported on, warned against, even as the skepticism about science and science reporting, in the United States in particular, seems more pervasive than ever.

Required reading: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring



November 26 – The Revolution Will Be Televised

Jon Else, director of “The Day After Trinity,” “Cadillac Desert,” “Inside Guantanamo,” and many other films, talks about the journalism of the visual, short and long-form, the truth-value of images and the politics of what we watch and what we see. Fake visual news will be discussed along with the unearned power of the visual. Documentaries and clips will be provided for viewing ahead of time, others will be screened in class.

    Required reading and viewing: James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro; Peter Nicks, The Waiting Room



December 3 – Constructing the Revolutionary Collage: Mexico

Gisela Perez de Acha Chavez, human rights lawyer, activist, and student in the J-School class of 2020, provides historical context. Is it possible to cover up a public massacre of hundreds of people on the streets of a nation’s capital? In reporting on such an event, whose voices should be privileged? To whom should we listen? In describing the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, Elena Poniatowska artfully shapes a collage of voices that tell the reader the terrible truth of what happened – and shows how to give voice to those whom a regime hoped to silence. In the end, her report tells us much about the collective consciousness of Mexico in 1968, and today.

    Required reading: Elena Poniatowska, Massacre in Mexico



December 6 – Finale: Are Journalists Treasonous Sleazebags?

Long before a president took to denouncing all journalists as “Enemies of the People,” the theory was advanced, by one of The New Yorker’s greatest writers, that “every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself…knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” Thus Janet Malcolm, on the first of the one hundred sixty-three pages of The Journalist and the Murderer. Should we take these words seriously? Is journalism as presently practiced in some way immoral? Unpatriotic? The US president is far from the only American who would passionately answer yes to these questions. Why? We will discuss the moral entanglements of journalism as currently practiced and delve into the cacophony of criticism that has accompanied the Age of Trump.

    Required reading: Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer



December 3 – Final Debate: What Journalism Needs Now

The course concludes with a class-wide debate about the present and future of journalism. We will narrow down the topic and shape the debate as the class advances.



Annotated Syllabus:

September 10 – Investigating Massacre, Ignoring History


Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote


Mark Tseng-Putterman, “A Century of US Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis,” Medium, 20 June 18

Raymond Bonner, “America’s Role in El Salvador’s Deterioration,” The Atlantic, January 20, 2018


  • Mark shared the story of how he was assigned to write about the massacre, and how he approached reporting the story
    • Talked about how he approached interviewing Rufina Amaya, the key source who could talk about witnessing and surviving the massacre
  • Susan Meiselas discussed how she approached photographing the aftermath of the massacre
    • Mentioned that she didn’t know beforehand that she would be documenting a massacre, or how essential her photographs would be in proving that it actually occurred.
  • Press at the time were being called unpatriotic for reporting on the massacre
  • Students ask for advice on how to interview victims of trauma. Mark discusses pushing an interviewee to share her story in order to “break through the façade.”
  • Discussion about how journalists cover history. How much background can you, or should you include?

Class Recording, Part 1

Class Recording, Part 2

September 17 – Let’s Journalize, Let’s News


Cyrus Farivar, “Tesla CEO: New ‘tent’ assembly line is ‘way better’ than conventional factory,” Ars Technica, July 19, 2018

Cyrus Farivar, “Groupon lost over $60 million in first half of 2014, stock tanks 15 percent,” Ars Technica, August 5, 2018

Cyrus Farivar, “Thousands of Uber drivers set to get $75, before lawyers’ fees, in settlement,” Ars Technica, August 26, 2018

Cyrus Farivar, “Tumblr finally names the 84 accounts it says were Russian trolls,” Ars Technica, March 23, 2018


  • How to access public records
    • How he used Twitter to get a quote from Elon Musk
    • Politiwoops, can use this to find deleted tweets from politicians
    • How to access records of publicly traded companies
  • Researching Non-profits

Class Recording, Part 1

Class Recording, Part 2


September 24 – All the President’s Scandals, Then and Now


Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, All the President’s Men

Bob Woodward, “How Mark Felt became ‘Deep Throat’,” The Washington Post, June 20, 2005.

Jeff Greenfield, “Why the Russia Scandal is Nothing Like Watergate,” Politico, December 13, 2017.


    • History of Watergate: It was a large program of political espionage, including spying, and breaking and entering, carried out by the Nixon Whitehouse.
  • All the President’s Men is not about Watergate, but reporting the Watergate scandal.
  • Charles Ferguson shows a clip from his film: ‘Watergate: Or, how we learned to stop an out of control president.’
  • Charles discusses the fact that Woodward and Bernstein were crime reporters, not political reporters, which made them unafraid of offending people in power, and changed how they approached reporting the story.
  • They were not afraid of using unethical reporting practices.
  • They were “shoeleather” reporters
  • ‘Deep Throat’ and how Woodward came to know him
  • Actually Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI
  • He was running the Watergate investigation in the FBI
  • How do you establish a conspiracy?
  • “Follow the Money”
  • Money establishes links between people.
  • What do these links establish or prove?
  • In this case, links established interference from the government into the FBI investigation.

Class Recording, Part 1

Class Recording, Part 2

October 1 – Covering War, Creating Fake News


George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia


  • Adam Hochschild discussed historical context of Spanish Civil War
    • Nationalism sweeping across Europe
    • Despite ~1000 foreign correspondents reporting from Spain at the time, no one seemed to ‘notice’ or report on the revolution
    • Orwell joined militia as one of thousands of independently-minded leftists who came to Spain to see a ‘genuine’ bottom-up revolution
    • Revolution eventually crushed as Hitler and Mussolini’s continued to aid the nationalists
    • Hundreds of thousands of Spanish refugees fled from revolution and Francisco Franco’s regime. Franco remained dictator until death for 36 years.
  • Any recommendations for handling the herd mentality prevalent among journalists (e.g., going after the same sources, standing at the same podium, going after the same stories)?
    • Be confident, as Orwell was, in your own perceptions. Look for interviewees who haven’t already spoken with journalists whenever you have freedom in choosing whom to interview. Try to aim for a different angle when ‘the herd’ is unavoidable.
  • Orwell was unintentionally practicing immersive journalism. Are those who have lived experience the most well-equipped to tell a story?
    • Orwell weaves in constant self-critique in order to build trust with the reader. Vulnerability and self-awareness can mitigate the issue of being an outsider.
      • Did Orwell only have a sense of false humility? He tended to point out only minor failures. Seemed to be an absurdist bent to the book: perhaps the war was so overwhelming to experience that it was difficult to capture emotional rawness.

Class Recording

October 8 – Forum’s Future – An Open Class Meeting




  • General consensus on following changes:
    • Small group discussions prior to whole class discussions
    • Open discussion and more student voices rather than Q&A with presenters
    • More diversity represented through selected works
    • Incorporate other types of media (e.g., films)

Class Recording

October 15 – Reporting the End of the World: Hiroshima and Us


Jon Hersey, Hiroshima


  • Dan Ellsberg shared historical context of Hiroshima
    • Majority of Americans falsely believe that use of the atomic bomb was necessary and that any alternative would have led to Japanese invasion. Pervasive belief that we won the war because of Hiroshima has supported federal government’s insistence that we have the right to initiate nuclear attacks on other countries.
    • Despite the book’s publication, policy toward nuclear weapons has remained largely unchanged. Currently playing with fire: initiating nuclear war with Russia, Syria, etc. would lead to triggering a ‘doomsday machine’/hydrogen, which would result in nuclear winter.
  • Aksaule shared atrocities in ‘Soviet Hiroshima’
    • Soviet Union used Kazakhstan as nuclear testing site for  ~ 40 years with ~450 tests in area previously inhabited by ~1.5 million people.
    • Prolonged nuclear testing has ravaged the environment and local people, among whom health problems remain rampant and the average life expectancy is ~7 years less than that of the average citizen. Moreover, many Semipalatinsk Polygon residents live in poverty.
  • Humanizing experience: what does it look like, and how might we accomplish this?
    • Foreign policy usually reported in a manner that’s detached from human lives they affect.
      People who decided to drop bombs also very ordinary people. H-bomb testing in Nevada resulted in deformities much like those in Kazakhstan. Eisenhower’s strategy to keep public confused about “fusion” vs. “fission” and not to mention “fallout.”
      Book didn’t change foreign policy for >70 years. As someone who worked directly with politicians, what did alternative look like? How might we modernize these ideal changes? What were the mistakes made then?
      The era Dan was part of is ongoing. It is still our reality today.
      Hiroshima did raise question of whether this was necessary. Authorities continued pushing story of: 1 million American soldiers and Marines would’ve died because there would’ve been an invasion.
      George Bundy – no study every done in military to come up with estimated number of deaths. later on National Security Council under Kennedy and was important in Vietnam War.
  • Was Hiroshima indicative of a larger failing of journalism in the US? Was this the only piece that tried to expose truth? Are we failing people in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same way?
    • 6 of 7 five-star generals and admirals made statements that they didn’t believe Hiroshima or even invasion were necessary (Japan starved for oil and food from naval blockade; by intercepting Japanese messages, we knew they were putting together surrender terms through Russia), but these facts were suppressed from public. President Truman and Secretary Burns didn’t want war to end before we used the bomb.
    • Recommends Bomb Power by Gary Wills, which discusses secrecy within government around nuclear weapons.
    • We’re still failing the public. AP’s report of civilian casualties in Iraq severely undercounted because of limited hospital data. Even though the country was loaded with journalists and the war was extremely bloody, photos and footage of bloodshed were not shown on the news.
  • What is the value in Hiroshima if it didn’t change policy? Is there inherent value in the documentation itself?
    • Society was affected even if policy did not change. The public became better informed.

Class Recording

October 22 – On Racism, Colonialism, and the Rise of Terror


Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers


  • Questions and reactions to film:
    • In the film, terrorism is romanticized and portrayed as a means of liberation. How does this play out with current wars involving terrorism? How do we report on this?
      • Often a fine line between official declarations of war and terrorism (e.g., what is the difference between the invasion of Iraq and 9/11 when there more civilian casualties from the former)? The scale of killing needs to be compared more realistically rather than through the lens of privileging “our” side.
    • How should journalists approach the definition of terrorism?
      • Generally accepted definition: violence used to accomplish another end, impress an audience, affect a third party, and/or influence opinion (excluding ‘official’ military attacks)
      • Need to address racial bias in coverage of mass shootings
    • What should journalists’ role be in pushing back against the use of potentially problematic language (e.g., “illegal aliens” ? “undocumented people”)?
      • Editors inherently conservative: journalists’ job to push back and create change

Class Recording

October 29 – Fighting For Law’s Protection, a Profession’s Inclusion


Ida B. Wells, The Light of Truth: Writings of an Anti-Lynching Crusader, pp. xix-xxxi, 1-145, 211-334


  • Otis Taylor discussed Ida B. Wells, as well as journalism and race in the US
  • Where is the line between shining a light on injustice and exploitation as a journalist?
    • Ask if people are willing to have their identities published and ensure they are aware of the consequences
    • Otis’ story on jail in Richmond allegedly mistreating immigrants: before the jail could conduct an internal investigation and after the story ran, some of women Otis had talked to had their deportation fast-tracked. 6~7 months afterward, the jail ended its contract with ICE, but a handful of lives impacted nonetheless.
  • As we see more hate crimes, there’s a duty to report and tell truth, but one of the goals of terrorism is to make people afraid … What can we do to not just amplify fear?
    • Think of creative angles to tell stories on gun violence and terrorism rather than relying on the same narratives
    • As journalists, need to distinguish terrorism from other forms of violence
  • Is there pushback when Otis tries to call out issues on daily basis given a predominantly white audience?
    • Acknowledges own position of privilege in working for the San Francisco Chronicle. Sees it as personal duty to use voice to call out important issues. Given that there is still a lot of work to be done with regard to expanding the diversity of the press, does not mind (for the time being) being consulted as the de facto voice of people of color within the office.

Class Recording

November 5 – Immersing Yourself, Becoming the Other


Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed


  • Deirdre English discussed Nickel and Dimed
    • Barbara Ehrenreich’s personality (e.g., sardonic tone) comes to the forefront of the book. As a prominent figure in The Democratic Socialists of America, Barbara’s anger also pervades her work.
    • Shift between microeconomic and macroeconomic questions throughout
  • What are the ethical implications of Barbara, as a well-educated white woman, telling the stories of blue collar workers?
    • Lack of lived experience can be seen as both a defect and a strength: can’t fully take on perspectives of or dive deep into subjects, but can view issue through a fresh pair of eyes as an outsider
  • Under which circumstances is it ethically acceptable for journalists to lie about their identity?
    • Barbara was able to glean information, as an undercover journalist, that people would not normally share on the record
      • But concealed subjects’ names and ultimately revealed herself at the end of her stay in each location
    • Immersive journalism may be justifiable when one has exhausted other methods/cannot get the same story otherwise
      • Try to minimize intrusiveness and harm
  • Deirdre recommended NannyVan series as an example of immersive journalism by women of color who have lived the experience of those they report on

Class Recording, Part 1

Class Recording, Part 2

November 26 – The Revolution Will Be Televised


James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro; Peter Nicks, The Waiting Room


    • John Else shared insights on documentary industry, as well as I Am Not Your Negro and The Waiting Room
      • Universal set of standard practices difficult to establish without stifling artistic touches and innovation, but lack thereof can be problematic
        • E.g., Mighty Times: The Children’s March won Academy Award but made extensive use of modern-day reenactments and footage from other historical events without disclosing tihs to the audience
        • Michael Moore’s popularity and tendency to let personal political views dominate his films may have opened floodgates to the erosion of truth-telling and ethics in documentaries
      • Use of pre-existing material (e.g., I Am Not Your Negro) vs. observational films created from unfolding, unpredictable events (e.g., The Waiting Room)
        • Some films may combine both of these approaches, and use additional elements like contemporary interviews, animation, third-person narration, etc.
      • Both films take audience on journey through time and interweave characters’ narratives
  • I Am Not Your Negro’s events span a decade and presented in a nonlinear fashion with both flashbacks to Montgomery and flash-forwards to Ferguson, takes place all over the US, and leverages music across multiple decades and genres
  • The Waiting Room’s timeline is linear and spans 24 hours, is set in a single location, and makes spare use of music
  • Ethics of using ‘fake’ footage to generate emotional reaction
    • Is audience aware of what they’re getting?
    • ‘What’s on the screen that I think is real vs. not?’ as litmus test
    • Make use of labels for disclosure.
  • Participant index – point rating system to rate “effect” of documentary (e.g., click generation; political action like calling congressman)
  • “Five stories and a website” strategy – tell stories about issue; end of film directs you to website as call-to-action (e.g., climate change films)
  • Value of individual empowerment (e.g., through production value) – should this be an objective of documentaries, particularly for marginalized voices in ‘democratization’ of documentaries?
  • Is it good or bad when a documentary is ‘forgotten’ over time (i.e., does this indicate we have progressed on issue as a society or merely that documentaries have a limited impact)?
  • How do we go beyond continuously sharing stories and galvanize change? Does journalism sometimes border on voyeurism of those who are suffering (particularly in marginalized communities)?
    • Could explore alternative platforms (e.g., Michael Moore distributed portion of profits from Roger and Me to evictees/film subjects)

Class Recording

December 3 – Constructing the Revolutionary Collage: Mexico


Elena Poniatowska, Massacre in Mexico


  • Gisela shared historical context of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre and 2012 #YoSoy132 movement
    • 1968 Tlatelolco massacre
      • Institutional Revolutionary Party / Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in power
      • Students from National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute (El Poli) formed National Strike Council, asking for the freedom of political prisoners (i.e., union members who protested), dismissal of the chief of police, elimination of riot police, repeal of Article 145 of the Federal Criminal Code, compensation to relatives of dead and wounded , and recognition of acts of repression and vandalism by authorities
      • Article 145 condemns anyone who “disrupts public order … to produce rebellion, sedition, or riots,” “obstruct the functioning of its legitimate institutions or foster the disobedience of Mexico’s civic duties,” to 2-6 years in prison, in essence criminalizing protests
      • Military occupation of schools
      • Press portrayed student protesters as terrorists and the government as victims
      • PRI had control over press because it also controlled state resources like paper
    • 2012 #YoSoy132 movement
      • Hashtag to show solidarity with original 131 university students who protested against President Enrique Pena Nieto (elected 2012, representing the return of PRI) and his oppression of the Atenco indigenous people in 2006
      • Highly editorialized coverage of protest portrayed students as anarchists
  • What’s the function oral narratives and crowdsourced knowledge in a place where a free press doesn’t exist?
    • Repeated oral narratives carry weight in the face of persistent government gaslighting
    • Bay Curious (KQED): crowdsource platform where public can submit, upvote, and discuss story ideas – potential way to democratize press
  • Can the press democratize itself?
    • No, commercial press reliant on advertising or subscribership ? constrained content
      • Many local papers, etc. owned by large media conglomerates
    • Depending on political context, this may not be an option (e.g., heavy censorship and persecution of ‘wayward’ journalists in China)
  • Do advances in technology offer any positive pass towards a freer press?
    • Can’t take Internet access for granted or expect technology to fix the problem (e.g., homeless people; many people in South Africa still rely on traditional media)
    • Need to offer more free outlets (e.g., NYT Podcast or long form radio)
    • Social media can facilitate organization of activist networks that operate in physical contexts
      • Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas outlines how social media facilitates mass activism, but grassroots activism remains important for including diverse narratives

Class Recording

December 6 – Finale: Are Journalists Treasonous Sleazebags?


Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer


Class Recording



Additional Reading

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Woodward & Bernstein, The Final Days

Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude

Joan Didion, The White Album

Ida Tarbell, History of the Standard Oil Company

Jesus Colon, A Puerto Rican in New York

Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night

Janet Malcolm, A Silent Woman

Michael Herr, Dispatches

Jonathan Schell, The Village of Ben Suc

Katherine Boo, Beyond the Beautiful Forevers

Luis J. Rodriguez, Always Running

Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War

Evelyn Waugh, Scoop

John McPhee, Draft No. 4

Adrian LeBlanc, Random Family

Daniel Boorstin, The Image

Leo Tolstoy, The Sebastopol Sketches

Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without A Name

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs

Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Soccer War

Mohamed Ould Slahi, Guantanamo Diary

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys

James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song

Dexter Filkins, The Forever War

Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life…

John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World

Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Lillian Ross, Picture

  1. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground

Joe McGinniss, The Selling of the President 1968

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine

Barton Gellman, Angler

Jane Mayer, The Dark Side

Seymour Hersh, Reporter

Gay Talese, Fame and Obscurity

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

  1. Adams & C.F. Adams, Chapters of Erie

Agee & Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men