The Ferris Seminars in Journalism
For 60 years, Princeton’s journalism seminars have forged new generations of distinguished journalists, writers, and policy makers. In the Ferris Seminars, students work closely with award-winning journalists to explore nonfiction storytelling and turn out ambitious, rigorous journalism.
Hosted by the Humanities Council, these courses promote the highest standards of ethics, cultivate dogged investigative reporting, and produce dynamic writing in print and digital media.
Journalism seminars include excursions to newsrooms and organizations as diverse as National Public Radio, ProPublica, BuzzFeed, and The Daily Show, and break trips that enable students to report from the field.
A path-breaking summer seminar takes students to Greece to cover the global refugee crisis, and students’ coursework has been published in the international edition of The New York Times and other major publications, and broadcast worldwide.
This work exemplifies the University’s informal motto, “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”
Our journalism seminars empower students to identify, analyze, synthesize, and convey to others significant issues in society. Students learn how to define a research question in the form of a potential news story, narrative video, or interactive database. They learn methods for acquiring verified evidence by interviewing knowledgeable news sources and obtaining relevant documents—both public and private. They learn to collate and evaluate the data that their research produces, in order to recognize substantial findings. Finally, they practice using that knowledge to tell compelling stories and build persuasive arguments that can have a meaningful impact on public policy. As students and as citizens, they will experience firsthand the importance and power of free speech, verified fact, and truth-seeking scholarship in a participatory democracy.
Each year, renowned journalists and nonfiction writers come to the Humanities Council as visiting professors who each, for a full semester, teach an intensive, intimate course and contribute to the intellectual life of campus.
Princeton’s journalism seminars have been taught by distinguished visiting professors from 1964 to the present.
For the coming academic year (2018–2019), the Humanities Council is pleased to announce the 10 celebrated reporters and authors who have been named visiting Ferris Professors of Journalism or McGraw Professors of Writing.
In the current year (2017–2018), we are proud to host the following visiting Ferris and McGraw Professors:
—Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News and can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Her course, International News: Migration Reporting, includes field work conducted among refugees in Canada and Connecticut.
—A Pulitzer Prize-winning senior editor who covers economic issues out of The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau, Bob Davis stresses storytelling while he teaches Politics and the Media: Writing about Washington and the Economy.
—Suki Kim is an investigative journalist, a novelist, and the author of New York Times bestseller Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite. Her course on Creative Non-Fiction focuses on journalism as an art form.
—As a staff writer at The New Yorker, Rebecca Mead has profiled many subjects and written more than a hundred Talk of the Town stories. In The McGraw Seminar in Writing: The Art of the Profile, she teaches about a mainstay of magazine journalism.
—Joe Richman is founder and executive producer of Radio Diaries and a Peabody Award-winning producer and reporter. In his course, Audio Journalism: Storytelling for Radio Documentaries and Podcasts, students produce a class podcast, among other projects.
—Before becoming CNNMoney’s national reporter for race and inequality in America, Tanzina Vega created and covered a beat on race and ethnicity for The New York Times. She teaches The Media and Social Issues: Reporting on Race in America Today.
—A two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, Jim Dwyer has spent most of his professional life reporting on New York City. He joined The New York Times in 2001 and has written the “About New York” column since 2007. He teaches a course on The Literature of Fact that integrates digital storytelling tools.
—Sarah Kaufman is The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic and senior arts writer. She is also the author of The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life. Her course, The McGraw Seminar in Writing, addresses writing about the arts, and the art of living.
—Michael LaForgia recently joined the investigative team of The New York Times. Previously the investigations editor at The Tampa Bay Times, he is also a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and teaches an Investigative Journalism course on the process of writing a traditional investigative story.
In addition to revolving rosters of visiting professors fresh from the field, the seminars rely on two Ferris Professors of Journalism in Residence:
—John McPhee ’53 is a staff writer with The New Yorker and a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the Award in Literature from the Academy of Arts and Letters. McPhee has taught his course, “Creative Non-Fiction,” to 16 sophomores each spring for more than 30 years.
—Joe Stephens is a veteran investigative reporter for The Washington Post whose work has won three George Polk Memorial Awards. A three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Stephens teaches “Accountability Reporting” and “What to Read and Believe in the Digital Age.”
Princeton’s journalism courses were inaugurated in 1957 by a bequest from former New York Herald journalist Edwin F. Ferris. Gifts from other generous alumni and their families have expanded our offerings.
Journalism students have gone on to write for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other esteemed publications, and to enjoy successful careers as nonfiction authors.
The Ferris Seminars have produced some of the nation’s top journalists, such as The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick ’81, and its award-winning staff writer, Ben Taub ’14.
Students enrolled in our courses come from all four divisions of the University and pursue an array of interdisciplinary pathways:
—Literary journalism (long-form narrative; creative nonfiction; writing for intellectual magazines)
—Journalism and the performing or visual arts (cultural reporting; film/arts/food/travel reviewing and editing)
—Journalism and society and politics (investigative and accountability journalism; business models for journalism; journalism and public policy; health and medical journalism)
—Journalism and data, technology, and statistics; computer-assisted journalism
—Audio and video storytelling (data visualization; social media; documentary filmmaking)
—Intercultural or global journalism (ethics and human values; interviewing and ethnography; regional/comparative studies)
—Journalism and science and technology (entrepreneurship; digital media; global health; data journalism; computer-assisted journalism; virtual reality)