Mark Danner

The Long Fact: A Workshop

The Long Fact – A Workshop

Spring 2011

Tuesdays 6 — 9   North Gate 104

Mark Danner


This workshop intended to guide and support those who are at work on a long-form reporting project, particularly those embarking on a written master’s thesis. Working closely with one another – the workshop will be limited to twelve – we will explore the various skills demanded in long-form reporting and writing, from development of story ideas, to shaping the pitch, to roughing out a reporting plan, to crafting a lead, to drafting, editing and writing the story. Readings will include selected works of long-form journalism drawn from The New YorkerHarper’sThe Atlantic and other publications. During the course of the term students will be expected not only to bring their own pieces to fruition but to work actively as editors on those of their colleagues.


Requirements. At the heart of this course is the work we will do around the table during our weekly meetings. This will include collective reading and editing of drafts, planning writing strategy, and in general the kind of collaborative work that can support writing a long-form piece of journalism. The goal is to improve your writing, and your editing.  Thus faithful attendance is critical. So is thorough preparation.


Grading.  Students will be graded on their participation in class, the quality of their written work and the effectiveness and thoroughness of their editing the work of their colleagues.


Required Texts 

William Strunk Jr and E.B. White, The Elements of Style

George Orwell, A Collection of Essays

Ian Jack (editor), The Granta Book of Reportage

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story: How to Write Successful Nonfiction

Norman Sims and Mark Kramer (editors), Literary Journalism

Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools


Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote

Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year

Michael Herr, Dispatches

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs

Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor

Janet Malcolm, A Silent Woman

V.S. Naipaul, The Writer and the World

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

William Vollmann, Rising Up and Rising Down




January 18, 2011 – Introducing the Long Fact


What we’re doing here (and why I don’t claim to be absolutely sure of the answer). What is “the Long Fact”? Can it be taught? If it can’t, what (again) are we doing here? Discuss… 


A trip around the room: surveying the long facts…


Reading: George Orwell, “Marrakech” in Orwell,  A Collection of Essays



January 25, 2011 – On Words, Sentences and Rules


Writing clearly: What to forget and what to remember. The war against cliché.  Why committing journalism can be dangerous to your prose. On slicing through jargon, and other editing strategies 


Reading: George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

              Strunk and White, The Elements of Style


Workshop: Noemie Bisserbe, Carbon Credits Pitch

                    Puck Lo’s Immigration Piece Draft



February 1, 2011 — On Power and Truth


Reading: Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor



Workshop: Deia de Brito, Ragpickers Draft


Noemie Bisserbe, Carbon Credits Pitch




February 8, 2011 – On Negotiating the Long Fact, Retrospectively


A possibly embarrassing discussion of how a “long fact” piece supposedly gets written, or anyway how it is remembered. Reporting, Structure, Writing, Editing.


Reading: Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote



Workshop: Fabiane Stefano, Angola Farmers Pitch




Reporting, and What It Is — February 18, 2011 (Note: Thursday class)


Ryszard Kapuscinski, “The Soccer War” in Ian Jack, The Granta Book of Reportage


Richard Preston, “The Mountains of Pi” in Sims and Kramer, Literary Journalism


James B. Stewart, “Curiosity,” “Ideas,” “Proposals” in Follow the Story



Workshop: Leah Bartos, Medical Examiners’ Conference Draft




February 22, 2011


Reading: Adrian LeBlanc, “Trina” in Sims and Kramer, Literary Journalism


Joseph Mitchell, “The Rivermen” in Literary Journalism


James B. Stewart, “Gathering Information” in Follow the Story



Workshop: Leah Bartos, Medical Examiners Conference draft



March 4, 2011 


Reading: Ian Jack, “Gibraltar” in The Granta Book of Reportage


John LeCarre, “The Unbearable Peace” in The Granta Book


James B. Stewart, “The Tipster” in Follow the Story


James Stewart, “Leads” in Follow the Story



Workshop: Fabiano Stefano, Angola Farmers Pitch


Leah Bartos, Medical Examiners Draft



March 1, 2011


Gerald Marzorati discussion on “Future of Mainstream Journalism,” with Mark Danner and Michael Pollan



March 8, 2011


Reading: Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman


James B. Stewart, “Transitions” and “Structure” in Follow the Story 



March 15, 2011


Reading: John McPhee, “Atchafalaya” in Literary Journalism


Sheri Fink, “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” in The New York Times Magazine, August 30, 2009


James B. Stewart, “The Battle for the Sny” in Follow the Story 


James B. Stewart, “Descriptions,” “Dialogue,” “Anecdotes” in Follow the Story



March 22, 2011: Spring Break 



March 29, 2011


Reading: V.S. Naipaul, “Michael X and the Black Power Killings in Trinidad” and “The Return of Eva Peron” in The Writer and the World


James B. Stewart, “Humor and Pathos,” “Endings,” and “Conclusions” in Follow the Story


Workshop: Scott Bransford, “Join Up or Go Home: Ethical Dilemmas…,” draft


April 19, 2011


Reading: Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year


Workshop: Scott Bransford, “Stasio’s War: An Introduction,” Draft




April 24, 2011 (Liaisons Dinner Meeting)


Reading: George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia


Workshop: Deia de Brito, “God is My Alarm Clock [Brazil Draft]”




April 26, 2011 (978 Grizzly Peak Meeting)


Reading: William Vollmann, Rising Up, Rising Down, pp. 598-705 

                                                 “Where Are All the Pretty Girls?”

                                                 “Let Me Know If You’re Scared”

                                                  “Dey Bring Dem Bloodstains up Here” 


Workshop: Puck Lo, “The War That Didn’t Happen,” Master’s Project 




May 3, 2011 


Reading: John Simpson, “Tianamen Square,” from The Granta Book 


Suketu Mehta, “Mumbai,” from The Granta Book


Elena Lapin, “The Man with Two Heads,” from The Granta Book


Mark Danner, “Iraq: The War of the Imagination,” The New York Review 



Workshop: Fabiane Stefano, “Land of Generals” draft


Josh Wolf, Police Surveillance Video Pitch


Scott Bransford, San Francisco Bay Guardian Pitch