Journalism on the Margins: Making Visible the Invisible

Instructor: Frank Russell

Course Description

One of the most important functions of journalism is calling our attention to what we might otherwise ignore. And all too often, the people we ignore are the poorest and most powerless among us, both in our own countries and around the world. This course introduces students to journalistic writing that chips away at classism, colonialism and ethnocentrism through vivid encounters with The Other and/or uncomfortable examination of our own (and the writer’s) biases.

Course Objectives 

  • Familiarize students with classic and contemporary works of literary journalism that are exemplars of the theme of the course;
  • Engage with the historical contexts in which these works of journalism were reported and written;
  • Distinguish and recognize various information-gathering techniques, including participant-observation, undercover reporting and interviewing;
  • Distinguish and recognize various narrative techniques, including different approaches to plot, character development, setting, action, dialog, style, structure, point of view and theme;
  • Recognize the ethical issues that arise when one delves deeply into the lives of real people, especially those who are most vulnerable.

Learning Outcomes

 Upon successful completion of this course, students will: 

  1. Be aware of and potentially able to apply the range of reporting and writing techniques available to the literary journalist.
  2. Appreciate the power of good journalism to increase awareness of the plight of the poor and the powerless and be catalyst for action and change.
  3. Be able to articulate, orally and in writing, what makes a work of literary journalism compelling.
  4. Understand the historical, social and political underpinnings of some of the intractable problems addressed by literary journalists during the past century.
  5. Improve their writing in English through reader’s journals, essays and instructor critiques.

Class/Learning Activities 

Discussion of readings, in-class presentations, readings, written assignments.


Type of work Description Hours
Readings Out-of-class reading assignments 60
Reader’s Journals Weekly responses to the readings 40
Presentations Each student will give a presentation on a set of readings 20
Essays 3 papers on the readings 120
Lecture/discussion 13 3-hour classes 40
Total workload 280


Type of assessment Learning outcome Impact on final grade Date of assessment
Presentation 1-6 10% TBA
Reader’s Journal 1-6 30% Weekly
Essays (3) 1-6 60% 9th, 12th and 15th week

Required Reading


  • Yagoda, Ben and Kevin Kerrane (eds.) (1997).  The Art of Fact. New York: Touchstone.
  • Kingsley, Patrick (2017). The New Odyssey. New York: Liveright.

Additional Possibilities:

  • Boo, Katherine (2014). Behind the Beautiful Forevers. New York: Random House.
  • Conover, Ted (1987). Coyotes. New York: Vintage.
  • Hersey, John (1946/2019). Hiroshima. BN Publishing.
  • Kidder, Tracy (2009). Mountains Beyond Mountains. New York: Random House.
  • LeBlanc, Adrian Nicole (2004). Random Family. New York: Scribner.
  • Lowery, Wesley (2016). They Can’t Kill Us All. London: Penguin.
  • Macy, Beth (2018). Dopesick. Boston: Little, Brown.
  • Nazario, Sonia (2007). Enrique’s Journey. New York: Random House.
  • Taibbi, Matt (2018). I Can’t Breathe. New York: Random House.

Articles and Websites: