Internet Explorer 7, 8, and 9 are no longer supported. Please use a newer browser.
Concourse works best with JavaScript enabled.
UCLA logo

371298: Introduction to Literary Journalism

  • Winter 2020
  • Section 1
  • 3 Credits
  • 01/15/2020 to 03/24/2020
  • Modified 02/27/2020

Meeting Times


15 Jan 2020 to 24 Mar 2020




Literary journalism is nonfiction prose that transcends “who, what, where, and when” to give a more detailed, richer, and vivid picture of real events. It combines an immersive approach to reporting with the aims and techniques of fiction. Although this type of writing has roots in antiquity (i.e., Thucydides’s The Peloponnesian War), contemporary practitioners include Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, John McPhee, and Gay Talese. Today, literary journalism appears in periodicals such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and Harper’s Magazine, as well as in the magazines or literary supplements of many major newspapers. By the end of the course, you have an understanding of the basic techniques for reporting and writing such journalism and at least one project started.


The course is designed for students interested in both studying and contributing to this distinct branch of creative writing. The course has two primary objectives:

  1. Introducing important works of literary journalism and providing tools with which to analyze them.
  2. Providing the basic techniques to report and write such journalism.

Each objective should serve to reinforce and elevate the other. The exemplary pages of LJ forerunners will offer models of technique, subject and style for your own efforts, while at the same time your fieldwork and craft practice will broaden your understanding of literary journalism as a unique, demanding and rewarding genre of creative non-fiction, one with a large and growing market.


By the end of the quarter, students should be able to pitch, research and write feature-length LJ articles. Students will also be able to discuss works of LJ in terms of style and structure, and to offer constructive notes on other student articles in a workshop environment.


Journalism is, in theory, 'true.' At times, the factual nature of your truth may come into question. As a result, journalists keep careful records of their interactions while on assignment.

1 small notebook, preferably a writer’s notebook. You will be using this for your reporting notes (or tablet, ipad, etc).

A 'flip book' for taking notes during interviews. Even when your voice recorder is running, it's helpful to take notes of your impressions and reactions.

A voice recorder is essential for interviews. Most smart phones have a recording app.

Unless you are gifted with a photographic memory, you will find that the details of interviews and events start fading almost immediately. Notes makes the writing possible and the better the notes are, the better the end result will usually be. You'll also have protection from accusations of misattribution, libel, etc.

The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism

  • Author: Kerrane, Yagoda, eds.
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Availability: Campus Bookstore, Online Booksellers

It will be very hard to follow the course without a copy of the book.


Your LJ Profile

Your central assignment will begin with choosing a subject (either a person, place, or thing) as the topic for a short profile. Part of the assignment will be to justify why this subject is story material. We will discuss how to shape a profile in class.

The first part of the assignment is to write a scene, drawn from the research for your major article. Focus on one of your major characters and base your scene on information derived from interviewing and observing your subject. This scene should be something that you plan on using in your final project and should exhibit the kind of stylistic techniques you will be using. This CANNOT be a friend, roommate, family member, fellow student, or UCLA faculty. An important aspect of LJ is that it requires you to reach  outside of your comfort zone.

Take photos during your research. These will serve as an aid in reconstructing the environments of your topic. The quality of the photographs won’t affect your grade but you will have to upload some of them into Canvas. The photos are a tool to help you write better.

The second major assignment is to produce a first, polished draft of the profile of 3,500-5,000 words. This first draft should not be seen as a “rough” draft. Instead, it should be your best work. You’ll get both oral and written feedback from your peers and from the instructor.

The final draft is your revision based on feedback from myself and your fellow students. In short, the three-part creation of your article will move from scene to rough draft to final draft. Writing is revision.

Course Policies

Late Papers

Journalists who miss deadlines get fired. Students who miss deadlines, well…I can’t fire you, but late assignments will be penalized at a rate of part of a letter-grade per day (i.e., B to B-).  I won’t accept any assignment that is more than two days late.  Assignments at the end of the quarter must be turned in on time, or I won’t accept them.  If you do not turn in one of the major assignments, you will fail the course.


Details of all assignments will be posted in the Discussion forum of that week's module. Any lectures and/or messages will be in the Discussion forum. Your essays will be posted there as well. Be sure to post all assignments in the correct thread.

Workshop Etiquette

Writing workshops require the submission of your own work for critique: that is, other students read your pieces and offer written feedback. The
instructor (moi) will provide comments as well. In general, you are responsible for responding to three different classmates’ exercises each week (three fulfills the requirement but you can respond to as many of your classmates’ exercises as you wish). Please spread the responses evenly, so that everyone is receiving roughly the same number of comments.
Please remember that when we discuss work in public fashion, there is great opportunity to injure feelings feelings, even with out the least iota of malice. Try to focus on the technical aspects of the material and avoid a psychological evaluation of the writer. Good feedback can be any length, but it should avoid personal attacks, insults, or harassment of any kind. Your stance should be that of a careful and interested reader. You’re making suggestions or observations the writer can take into the next draft or into other pieces.

In my feedback, I will always assume your work is a draft in progress and gear my comments toward improvements you can make in future drafts, even though you may not actually choose to rewrite that particular piece.

Feedback is most helpful if it makes specific points. It’s least helpful when it deals in generalizations. See the examples below.

Example 1
“Your piece is great.”
“I really didn’t like this. It just didn’t work for me.”
These are weak and uninformative feedback, because they leave the writer nothing specific to work on. Overall judgments like this are usually not helpful in revision.

Example 2
“I like the way you used point of view.”
“The point of view seems to change throughout the piece.”
These are better, because they help the writer focus on a specific aspect of the piece. Still lacking specificity, however.

Example 3
“I couldn’t figure out whose point of view we’re seeing in Paragraph 4.”
“I was really moved by--” (quote the line or lines from the writer’s submission that were most effective, and tell the writer specifically why you liked it).
“The way you handled (dialogue, description, point of view, etc.) in this piece was particularly effective because--” (point to the element the writer used best and tell the writer why you liked it).
“You really got my attention at--” (and identify what did it for you, so that the writer knows

The comments in Example 3 are useful comments. They let the writer know whether a specific aspect of the piece is working, giving some idea where he or she might best spend revision time. Notice that useful feedback doesn’t necessarily have to offer suggestions. It can merely observe, leaving the writer to work out solutions for herself.

Your feedback can also build on the responses of others. For example:

“I agree with Jane’s point about the effective use of imagery in this piece, and I want to point out a few more examples that really worked for me--”

Try to frame all comments in terms of your own experiences of the piece. The fact that something didn’t work for you or you didn’t understand an aspect of the writing may be a reflection of your own background and preferences. In other words, instead of saying, “The ending made no sense,” a more constructive comment would be, “I was a little confused at the conclusion because--” Be creative in framing your responses. Include substance, so that the writer has something to go on in figuring out how she is reaching you.

A note about Netiquette: Be aware that in an online class that is driven by written words, there’s a particular danger of misunderstandings unless words are carefully chosen. In your comments to others, be careful how you frame your words. Sharing thoughts politely and respectfully can sometimes pose a challenge when working online—we lack our usual communication cues of vocal intonation, facial expression, and gestures. Also, we may well find ourselves disagreeing in our conversations about published writing and about one another’s work. So we must make an extra effort in our postings to be polite and respectful. 

Institutional Policies

Student Conduct

Students are subject to disciplinary action for several types of misconduct or attempted misconduct, including but not limited to dishonesty, such as cheating, multiple submission, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University; or theft or misuse of the intellectual property of others or violation of others' copyrights. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with policy provisions which proscribe these and other forms of misconduct at:

Services for Students with Disabilities

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, UCLA Extension provides appropriate accommodations and support services to qualified applicants and students with disabilities. These include, but are not limited to, auxiliary aids/services such as sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices for hearing-impaired individuals, extended time for and proctoring of exams, and registration assistance. Accommodations and types of support services vary and are specifically designed to meet the disability-related needs of each student based on current, verifiable medical documentation. Arrangements for auxiliary aids/services are available only through UCLA Extension’s Service for Students with Disabilities Office at (310) 825-7851 or by email at [email protected]. For complete information see:


Your instructor may post the interim grade Incomplete/I if at the end of the class your overall work is of passing quality but a portion could not be submitted for understandable reasons (e.g. illness). It is your responsibility to petition your instructor for permission to submit work late and to provide an explanation, and it is his or her sole decision whether to accept the explanation. If permitted, the Incomplete/I grade will be posted and a time frame defined for you to submit the missing work, ranging from one to twelve weeks. Incomplete/I grades that remain unchanged after twelve weeks will lapse to F, NP or U. Receiving an I grade entitles you to submit only the missing work your instructor has agreed to accept late, and does not allow other work to be retaken or oblige UCLA Extension to provide continuing access to course materials via Canvas. The Incomplete/I grade is not an option for courses that do not bear credit, such as 700, 800, or 900-level courses. For complete information, see:

All Grades are Final

No change of grade may be made by anyone other than the instructor, and then, only to correct clerical errors. No term grade except Incomplete may be revised by re-examination. The correction of a clerical error may be authorized only by the instructor of record communicating directly with personnel of Student and Alumni Services.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California is committed to creating and maintaining a community where all individuals who participate in University programs and activities can work and learn together in an atmosphere free of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation. Every member of the community should be aware that the University prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence, and that such behavior violates both law and University policy. The University will respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and will take appropriate action to prevent, to correct, and when necessary, to discipline behavior that violates our policy.

All Extension students and instructors who believe they have been sexually harassed are encouraged to contact the Department of Student and Alumni Services for complaint resolution: UCLA Extension, Suite 113, 10995 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; Voice/TTY: (310) 825-7031. View the University’s full Policy on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence at

Additional Items

Course and Instructor Evaluation

UCLA Extension values your feedback on course and instructor evaluations. We ask all students to take a few minutes to complete an end-of-course evaluation survey. Updates to the course and instruction are influenced by your feedback. Understanding your student experience is essential to ensure continuing excellence in the online classroom and is appreciated by your instructor and the UCLA Extension academic leadership.

Your participation in a survey is voluntary, and your responses are confidential. After instructors submit grades, they will be given an evaluation report, but this report will not contain your name.

About Your Online Course Materials

Please note the following about online course components at UCLA Extension:

  • Students must have basic computer skills, including the use of word processing software, email, and the ability to use internet browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.
  • Students are responsible for meeting the technical requirements of Canvas and familiarizing themselves with the Canvas Learning Management System.
  • Students are responsible for keeping a copy of all assignments and work submitted, and to be aware of all assignments, due dates, and course guidelines.
  • Students are encouraged to keep and/or download a local copy of their assignment files, as access to the online environment of a specific course is limited to 30 days after the final course date, as listed in the course catalog.

    If you need assistance downloading student materials from your course, please contact Canvas Support or the UCLA Extension Learning Support Team.

UCLA Extension Canvas and Learning Support

For immediate 24/7 Canvas technical support, including holidays, click on Help (located on the menu to the left) where you can call or chat live with a Canvas Support representative.

UCLA Extension Instructional Design and Learning Support
The UCLA Extension Learning Support staff assists both students and instructors with Canvas-related technical support, as well as general and administrative questions.

Learning Support staff is available Monday through Friday, from 8 AM to 5 PM (Pacific Time), except holidays:


Course calendar and related activities
When Lesson Notes
Week 1
Literary Journalism?

An overview of what LJ is, and what it most definitely is not.

Conducting and editing an interview into a monologue.

Week 2
Nuts & Bolts

Pitching Your Story

Who, What, When, Where, Why

Week 3
Taking Chances

How to Get the Story

Fly on the Wall or One of the Boys?

Week 4
The Unreliable Narrator

'Journalistic objectivity' as oxymoron.

Week 5
First Draft

Getting it down before getting it right.

Week 6

Irony, humor, melodrama and not being 'on the nose.'

Week 7
Research and Serendipity

How to win the LJ lottery. 2nd draft due.

Week 8
The Natural World

Approaches to descriptive writing.

Week 9
Close Reading: It Matters

From reading to writing.

Week 10
The Way Forward

Forum on publishing; Final draft due

Week 11