BA, Drew University. Wrote “County Lines” column in The New York Times for six years and a book, A Cold-Blooded Business, based on a murder case he covered in The New York Times, which Kirkus Reviews called “riveting.” Produces syndicated online video column for TheStreet.com, often a lead feature on Yahoo! Finance. Served as editor-in-chief of Fertilemind.net; twice named “Best of the Web” by Forbes magazine. Awards include the Silver Award in 2007 from the League of American Communications Professionals; named the best journalism critic in the nation by Talking Biz website at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. When not writing or teaching, serves as a firefighter in Hastings, New York. Most recent book (2012) is on firefighters. SLC 2010–
Current undergraduate courses
This course is part of the Intensive Semester in Yonkers program and is no longer open for interviews and registration. Interviews for the program take place in the previous spring semester.
Yonkers has long been known as the city on the hill where nothing is on the level. Racial strife—in court and out on the streets—as well as a public school system standing on the lip of insolvency, political corruption, and a rotating series of revitalization plans have been part and parcel of life in Yonkers. Media outlets that used to cover this intrigue and these troubles have suffered financial reversals of their own and have mostly pulled out. Working collectively, students in this class will step into the void, creating their own publication to cover the often gritty reality that is Yonkers.
Related Cross-Discipline Paths
A writer's central and essential challenge is to create work that resonates with others, but the themes and threads of our own lives do not automatically captivate readers. Even beyond the questionable resonance of self, looking within offers a limited store of writing ideas. Searching outward—where the writer meets the world and the world, the writer—offers that writerly requisite: a limited store of ideas. But as writers, how do we perform the imperative act of moving beyond self? Where do we look, and how do we know when we find worthwhile subject matter—topics with the minimum requirement of intricacy and complexity? Moreover, once we hone in on a suitable idea, how do we know whether it lends itself to modest treatment or a work of considerable range and ambition? We will write work of limited and complex scope. For guidance, inspiration, and cautionary tales, we will read and discuss works of writing from James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Truman Capote, Calvin Trillin, and others.
This class will both investigate journalism as a social, cultural, and historical phenomenon and employ journalism as a practice by which to encounter the world. We will immerse ourselves in journalism’s intricacies and complexities, its strengths and faults, and come to understand it not only as a working trade and history’s first draft but also as a literary art in its own right—one with as many deep imperatives and as rich a tradition as poetry or fiction. We will survey the best (and a little bit of the worst) of short- and long-form journalism and, over the course of the year, craft everything from brief profiles to ambitious investigative pieces. How does a writer know which details to highlight and which to subordinate? What is the nature of good interviewing technique? How does one interview a willing source as opposed to a resistant one? When should one write concisely, and when is it appropriate to expatiate? What are the ways in which a journalist interacts with, and runs the danger of contaminating, his or her subject? We will ask and answer these and many other questions and spend significant time puzzling out the ways in which fundamental journalistic practice leaps from print to television to new media. Prominent journalists will be invited to talk to us and tell us what they do. Readings will range from H. L. Mencken, George Orwell, Janet Malcolm, Joseph Mitchell, and Truman Capote to Joseph Roth.
Long-form investigative journalism saved the environment in the 20th century by exposing the malfeasance, carelessness, and push for profit that led to smoggy cities, burning rivers, and chemically-laden food and land. What will it save us from in the 21st century? That remains to be seen and may well be a function of the quality of long-form investigative journalism, a form of nonfiction writing imperiled in the modern age as media outlets retract and cut both research budgets and manpower. Enter The Indian Point Project. This class will focus on a single, collective journalism project about Indian Point, the hulking local nuclear power plant that stands as the focus of environmental, political, economic, and national security concern. Working together and through mediums ranging from the written word to video, students will pull out all known and hidden threads of the Indian Point story in order to put the plant—and all it represents about the future—into proper perspective. We will interview most major figures in the Indian Point debate, both in class and out in the field. Together, we will make a field trip to Indian Point. Open.
It would be safe to say that journalism and nonfiction writing are currently undergoing a transformation. Our most storied publications are in a state of crisis. Big-city newspapers are failing by the day. Magazines are imperiled. Book publishers face encroaching competition from handheld electronic devices and online search engines that do not recognize copyright laws. What is an ambitious, intuitive writer to do going forward? Quite simply: Harness all the strengths of the storytelling past to a new world of few space restrictions, more flexible tones, the ready presence of video, audio, and animation—which can either enrich or encroach upon text—and comprehend the role of writer in such a way as to include and exploit new media. We will examine the relationship between literary nonfiction, which has always been cinematic in focus and flexible in tone, and the once and future practice of journalism. Masters of 20th-century nonfiction such as V.S. Naipaul, Truman Capote, Joseph Mitchell, and Roger Angell—steeped as they are in the journalistic practice of their time—can serve as guideposts to our uncertain future. We will examine, through reading and writing, the ways in which the formulas of journalism are transformed into literature. We will emphasize the importance of factuality and fact-checking and explore adapting modern storytelling to video, photography, and sound. As the semester progresses, literary nonfiction will be both discovered and reinvented to fit our new world.
Long-form investigative journalism has opened many doors, perhaps most literally in America’s penal system where journalists have regularly revealed—and freed—the wrongfully convicted. This class will set out to expose the innocence (or confirm the guilt) of a man or woman convicted of a controversial murder or other serious felony. Working collectively and using all tools and traditions of investigative journalism, the class will attempt to pull out all known and unknown threads of the story to reveal the truth. Was our subject wrongfully accused, or are his or her claims of innocence an attempt to game the system? The class will interview police, prosecutors, and witnesses, as well as the friends and family of the victim and of the accused. The case file will be examined in depth. A long-form investigative piece will be produced, complete with multimedia accompaniment.