Advanced Reporting: The Art of the Profile

Rutgers University-Newark
The Department of Arts, Culture and Media
Advanced Reporting (21:086:338:Q1)
Fall 2020 | Mondays & Wednesdays 10 a.m. – 11:20 a.m., Held Virtually Through Canvas

Professor Gaiutra Bahadur | Email:
Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Office Location: Zoom Via Canvas

Advanced Reporting: THE ART OF THE PROFILE

In this course, students will learn the art of profile writing through reading some of the best practitioners of the form, including Susan Orlean, Helen Benedict, Walt Harrington, Nat Hentoff, Jose Antonio Vargas and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. We’ll read one profile a week, from publications including The New Yorker, GQ, Elle and The New York Times, and work together to figure out makes them good. On Mondays, we’ll discuss the profiles. On Wednesdays, we’ll talk about the processes of interviewing, researching and writing. Students will work together in teams of four people to produce a profile, with a multimedia element, of an immigrant health care worker on the front lines of the pandemic.


Profiles, resources, craft articles as noted in the weekly schedule. They are all available as PDFs through Canvas and/or links provided in the weekly modules. You are not required to buy any books for this class.


Attendance and Participation: You will earn points for attendance and participation throughout the semester through group discussions and exercises and quizzes. Each week, you’ll earn a maximum of 3 points, adding up to 42 points. The remaining points will be earned through the following assignments.

Assignment #1, due Sept. 11: Submit edited audio file of interviews you will conduct with each other, along with a 250-word reflection on what you learned from exercise. Worth 5 points.

Assignment #2, due Sept. 18: Submit a 400-word profile of each other based on the interviews you conducted. Worth 10 points.

Team Project: You will work in groups of four people to produce a 1500-word written profile, with a multimedia element, of an immigrant health care worker on the front lines of the pandemic. Each group will have: (1) a researcher/reporter, (2) an interviewer, (3) a writer, and (4) a multimedia producer. Using a survey that asks which role you are most comfortable with and what times you’re available to meet, I’ll form the groups. You should all be working together through each phase to decide who to interview, what questions to ask, what context to place him or her in, what images, audio or video element would best supplement the profile, and how to tell their tale. This is a team effort that asks you to think together, plan together, and work together to produce the best project possible. You’ll all receive the same grade for each step of the project. Each of you will also be given an individual grade based on feedback from your peers on how well you supported the team. Due dates and the point spread for the project are:

October 19, edited audio interview of immigrant health care worker due: 3 points.

November 6, first draft of written profile due: 10 points.

November 23, drafts returned with my editorial questions and comments.

December 9, final draft due: 20 points.

Individual grades based on team feedback: 10 points.

We’ll offer the work we produce to Newest Americans   (Links to an external site.)  for publication! Let’s make it sing.


A+       97-100             C+       77-79

A         90-96               C         70-76

B+       87-89               D         60-69

B         80-86               F          <60

Policy on Cameras

The course will be a mix of asynchronous and synchronous elements. During our synchronous sessions, you will be required to have your cameras on. All students will be required to use the same Zoom backdrop, of the Atlantic Ocean. Every student must download and use this virtual background.



Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020

  1. Introductions to the course and each other


Tuesday, Sept. 8

Assigned Profile: “The Sporting Life: Feathers,” by Reeves Wiedeman, The New Yorker, March 7, 2011, about Mike Tyson.

Wednesday, Sept. 9

Process Focus: Interviewing I


Monday, Sept. 14

Assigned Profile: “A Transit Worker’s Survival Story,” by Jennifer Gonnerman, The New Yorker, August 24, 2020.

Wednesday, Sept. 16

Process Focus: Interviewing II


Monday, Sept. 21

Assigned Profile: “An Imam in America: A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling Two Worlds,” by Andrea Elliott, The New York Times, March 5, 2006.

Wednesday, Sept. 23

Process Focus: Research I

Assigned Reading: “Muslims in America: Creating a New Beat,” by Andrea Elliott, Nieman Reports, Summer 2007.


Monday, Sept. 28

Assigned Profile: “Living Large: Profile of Fab Five Freddy,” by Susan Orlean, The New Yorker, June 10, 1991.

Wednesday, Sept. 30

Process Focus: Finding the Right Subject for a Profile

Assigned Viewing: Susan Orlean on Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary


Monday, Oct. 5

Assigned Profile: “The Watergate Hero Faces Himself: Carl Bernstein,” pp. 27-48 in American Profiles: Somebodies and Nobodies Who Matter (1992) by Walt Harrington.

Wednesday, Oct. 7

Process Focus: Research II


Monday, Oct. 12

Assigned Profile: “Filling Silences with Strong Voice: Paule Marshall,” pp. 77-83 in Portraits in Print: A Collection of Profiles and the Stories Behind Them (1991) by Helen Benedict.

Wednesday, Oct. 14

Process Focus: Interviewing III

Assigned Reading: “Marshall Commentary,” pp. 84-86 in Portraits in Print: A Collection of Profiles and the Stories Behind Them (1991) by Helen Benedict.


Monday, Oct. 19

Assigned Profile: “Mr. & Mrs. B,” by Alexander Chee, Apology Magazine, Winter 2014

Wednesday, Oct. 21

Process Focus: Writing Character


Monday, Oct. 26

Assigned Profile: “A Translation Crisis at the Border,” by Rachel Nolan, The New Yorker, January 6, 2020.

Wednesday, Oct. 28

Process Focus: Writing Place


Monday, Nov. 2

Assigned Profile: “Manchild in the Promised Land: Where Darryl Dawkins Came From,” by Pete Dexter, Inside Sports, April 30, 1980.

Wednesday, Nov. 4

Process Focus: Writing Scenes


Monday, Nov. 9

Assigned Profile: “How Missy Elliott Became an Icon,” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Elle, May 15, 2017.

Wednesday, Nov. 11

Process Focus: Writing and Structure


Monday, Nov. 16

Assigned Profile: “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof,” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, GQ, August 21, 2017.

Wednesday, Nov. 18

Process Focus: The Ladder of Abstraction


Monday, Nov. 23

Assigned Profile: “A Boy of Unusual Vision,” by Alice Steinbach, The Baltimore Sun, May1984.



Monday, Nov. 30

Assigned Profile: “The Face of Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg opens up,” by Jose Antonio Vargas, The New Yorker, Sept. 13, 2010.

Wednesday, Dec. 2

Process Focus: Editing


Monday, Dec. 7

Assigned Profile: “Among the Wild Things: Maurice Sendak’s Fantastic Imagination,” by Nat Hentoff, The New Yorker, Jan. 22, 1966.

Wednesday, Dec. 9

Process Focus: Closing Thoughts