By ABBY BIESMAN
Former New York Times editor Sarah Harrison Smith is teaching a class called “Journalism for Writers” this semester in the Writing Seminars department.
Mary Jo Salter and Jean McGarry, Writing Seminars department co-chairs approached Smith about the course.
“They were interested in helping kids who were interested in nonfiction journalism get more of a certain introduction to it,” Smith said.
The class looks at exemplary nonfiction writing in magazines, newspapers, and some additional texts. While students learn from strong articles, they also look at failures.
“I definitely have several writers who already have significant experience as interns or freelance writers,” Smith said. “The course began with discussions about quotations, defamation and some broad descriptions of libel. The course is now moving to the discussion of fallible sources and plagiarism.
Additionally, there are several journalists coming in to speak to the course. The lineup includes Ken Tucker from NPR, Entertainment Weekly and Yahoo; and Matt Bai who was a long time New York Times columnist and is currently the national political writer for Yahoo News.
Speakers also include Wil Hylton, an investigative journalist who is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and has recently had stories published in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine; a local journalist.
Ian Duncan, who is The Baltimore Sun’s military and intelligence reporter, will also be speaking in addition to Liesl Schillinger, a freelance writer who has written for The New York Times Book Review among other publications and is a translator.
“Other than Liesl, everybody has a Baltimore or Maryland connection, so they’re all local,” Smith said. “Having those journalists come to speak to the students also helped shape the course because we will spend time in advance reading some of their work and trying to get a handle on what it is about their writing that makes them successful.”
Smith started her career at Oxford University writing for a feminist magazine. She worked at The New Yorker for five years as a fact checker and wrote a book about fact checking.
In 2002 she began working at The New York Times as a head of research. After three years she began working as managing editor of The New York Times Magazine. Afterwards she was an editor and writer for the Metropolitan section of The New York Times. She left The Times and moved to Baltimore in July 2014.