Like most dudes who grew up dreaming of being professional athletes only to have reality intervene, the earliest pieces I remember having an impact are Gary Smith's Sports Illustrated features from the late 1990s and early 2000s. But Joshua Davis' 2008 Wired story, "High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace," made me want to write them and, despite the reportorial skill and ability he demonstrates—or, perhaps because of the ease with which he combines it all—believe I actually could.

The second paragraph:

Out of the darkness, a rumble grows. The water begins to vibrate. Suddenly, the prow of a massive ship splits the fog. Its steel hull rises seven stories above the water and stretches two football fields back into the night. A 15,683-horsepower engine roars through the holds, pushing 55,328 tons of steel. Crisp white capital letters — COUGAR ACE — spell the ship's name above the ocean froth. A deep-sea car transport, its 14 decks are packed with 4,703 new Mazdas bound for North America. Estimated cargo value: $103 million.

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The purpose of this course is to teach students how to write publishable magazine-length narrative non-fiction: In other words, my aim is to help you learn how to write good, long, true stories. The course outline will mirror a typical writer’s progress through the birth of an idea to a finished, polished piece, including reporting, writing, editing, and fact-checking. In addition to classroom discussion, course readings will help students understand the difference between good and bad work. My hope is that by the end of the semester, you will have written the Best Story of Your Life So Far (BSOYLSF) and it will help you reach your future potential as an award-winning literary journalist.

The Best American Magazine Writing 2008
(New York, Columbia University Press, 2009).

The course text is available at the UM bookstore. It’s good and it’s cheap.

I want this to be one of the most beneficial and enjoyable classes you will take. To better my chances of hearing you say (and even mean) that, I will be readily available for all of your questions and concerns, whether they pertain to this course, to journalism in general, or to the universe and our place in it. I won’t post regular office hours, but I will be in my office or the Kaimin newsroom most weekdays between 10 and four o’clock, and my door will be open. If you have a specific, time-sensitive problem to discuss, please make an appointment with me just to make sure I’m there.

In exchange, I expect that you will put as much effort into this course as I will. Please understand that I’m a one-chance kind of guy. Students who miss appointments, don’t actively participate in class, or blow deadlines will be knocked to a lower place in my mental masthead. But if I see that you care about your work and your future, you will not find a better ally than me. That’s the deal.

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An upper-level undergraduate course focusing on both reading and writing, with a specific emphasis on exploring both the form and content of the "literature of journalism."

What can I say about journalism? It has the greatest virtue and the greatest evil. It is the first thing the dictator controls. It is the mother of literature and the perpetrator of crap. In many cases it is the only history we have, and yet it is the tool of the worst men. But over a long period of time and because it is the product of so many men, it is perhaps the purest thing we have. Honesty has a way of creeping in even when it was not intended.

—John Steinbeck
(letter to the U.S. Information Service)
E. Steinbeck and R. Wallsten, eds., Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (New York: Viking, 1975), 256.

Literary journalism isn't about literary flourishes, it isn't about literary references. Literary journalism at its best asks the questions that literature asks: about the nature of human nature and its place in [the] cosmos.

—Ron Rosenbaum
(in an interview with Tim Cavanaugh, Feed magazine)

The focus of this course is the intersection between journalism and literature; its aim, to encourage you to develop a journalistic and critical understanding of some of the finest reportage in the English language. We will survey the work of a generous range of print and broadcast journalists, analyzing relationships between form and content, as well as the historical context in which the pieces were produced. In the latter portion of the course, a number of contemporary journalists will join us as class guests to discuss their work.

To enroll in this course, you must have successfully taken and passed "Journalism 301."

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  1. Always arrive 10 minutes early.
  2. At a big gathering, sit in the back, in a place that commands the entire field.
  3. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
  4. Be more than just a reporter; be a good human being.
  5. Apply the laws of dating.
  6. If something drops, pick it up.
  7. Look deeply into their eyes.
  8. Be still and rapt.
  9. Give “civilians” the benefit of the doubt.
  10. Respect your source, no matter how lowlife. You have no story without him or her.
  11. Be aware of your own body language.
  12. Use the Journalist’s Nod.
  13. Make affirmational noises: give ‘em their amens.
  14. Employ the pregnant pause.
  15. Learn to listen on several levels at once.

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