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					SPRING 2010 (REVISED)
Encounters in Profile Writing
Magazine profiles are a license to pry into the private world of a stranger and turn
the encounter, be it surprising, unnerving, exhilarating, boring, odd, depressing,
moving, educational, awkward or hilarious, into a fresh understanding of what
animates him or her. Profiles engage specific journalistic muscles, challenging
you to elicit trust and information from a single person, notice the revealing
details, and turn the material into a fulfilling narrative yarn. The core of it, what
pulls the writer and the reader through to the conclusion, is a genuine curiosity
about what motivates people, whether it’s a Hollywood celebrity, a terrorist or an
eccentric woodworker living in the sticks. What makes people tick?

In this class, we’ll write and edit two short profiles, construct a tightly-edited Q&A,
and work up to a final, 2,500-word story that will hopefully be the most fully
realized profile you’ve ever written. Along the way, we’ll be reading and
discussing published works to explore ways of thinking about profiles, from the
conventional methods to the experimental possibilities. We’ll have several
successful writers visiting the class to talk about their own techniques and


Students will be expected to complete the following major written assignments,
all of which are due in class on the dates given below.

1. A mini-profile (600 to 800 word). 10% of your grade. DUE: FEBRUARY 5

2. An edited Q&A. 10% of your grade. DUE: FEBRUARY 19

3. A short profile (1,200 to 1,500 words). 20% of your grade. DUE: FEBRUARY

4. A long profile (2,200 to 3,000 words) 50% of your grade. DUE: APRIL 16

The remaining 10% of your grade will hinge on the quality of your story proposals
and your ample engagement with the required readings and class workshops.

Presentation of work: Please print out all your work; don't submit papers to me
by e-mail or e-mail attachments. Double-space, with adequate margins, and use
a 12-point font. Number your pages, staple them together, and include your
name. Proofread your work before you submit it. Make sure you photocopy your
work for your group if it is going to be workshopped.

We’ll start with an overview of the conventions of profile writing for magazines:
finding a relevant subject, conceptualizing a thesis, researching personal history,
approaching a person, preparing for and conducting meaningful interviews,
finding and interviewing sources, culling notes for defining scenes and peculiar
details and finally crafting a narrative that will bring your protagonist (or anti-hero)
into glorious Technicolor.

Assignment: Bring in a profile you admire and be prepared to proselytize,
describe, defend and highlight your choice. Choose an excerpt to read to the


“Neal Horsley and the Future of the Armed Abortion Conflict,” Daniel Voll,
Esquire, 1999

"Travels in Georgia," John McPhee, New Yorker, 1973

“Princess Paris,” Vanessa Grigoriadis, Rolling Stone, 2003
"How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?", Lillian Ross, New Yorker, 1950
"Poet," Joe Hagan, New York Observer, 2004

In this class, we’ll consider how to begin. How do we find a subject? What makes
a subject interesting? How do we come up with a thesis from which to start
asking questions? How do we research and prepare? How do we call somebody
up on the telephone and start getting them talking to us?

A mini-profile of a person who is a) doing something unusual, inspiring or
interesting in his or her field right now, or, b), someone who is part of an ongoing
news trend you’ve read about. This could be anyone from an emerging artist or
entrepreneur whose work you admire or find interesting or disconcerting, to a
homeowner in foreclosure or a soldier about to ship off to Afghanistan.

At this length, a profile can be a compressed biography, an edited series of
piquant quotes, or a kind of glorified scene with a single person at its center. How
much of a person can you plum at this length? How much information can you
relay? The profile should have a beginning, middle and end and feel self-
contained and complete. Look to the assigned readings for inspiration and
examples of what you can do at this length. Make enough copies of your profile
for your workshop group so we can talk about the pieces.

Go through the “Encounters” archive at New York magazine and read a selection
of quick profiles that are in the 800-word range. Read at least four of them.

"Joe Ades: Peeler Pedler," Daniel Bergner, New York Times, 2009

A selection of profiles by next week's guest speaker, Andrew Goldman.

Guest Speaker: Andrew Goldman, contributing editor, New York and Elle.

Subject: Using a subject’s own voice to bring a profile into bold relief.

We’ll talk about the mini-profiles. What problems did you run into? How did you
get cooperation and access? How did you choose what to include and what to
leave out? What parts of your interview felt hot and which cold and why? Did you
like the person? How did that impact what you wrote?

1. Read the mini-profiles by people in your assigned workshop group and
prepare edits and feedback for each of them.

2. Come up with three profile ideas for the major project. Choose people you
think will cooperate and give you as much access and time as possible. Explain
why each is interesting and engaging enough to fill out 2,500 words and what’s
behind your interest – why this person and why now? Find someone who really
sparks your curiosity, who you actually want to spend time with.


"A Roomful of Hovings," John McPhee, The New Yorker, 1966
A selection of profiles by guest speaker Stephen Rodrick.


DUE TODAY: Your three pitches for the major profile and your edits on your
colleagues' mini-profiles.
Guest Speaker: Stephen Rodrick, Contributing Editor, New York Magazine, New
York Times Magazine
Subject: How to conduct a great interview.
How do we prepare for an interview? What questions work best? How do we
make our natural curiosity work for us and get our subject comfortable? We’ll
discuss what works and what to avoid.

Today, we'll break up into groups and workshop your mini-profiles.

1. Prepare a final version for your mini-profile based on workshop feedback.
2. Write an edited Q&A, between 600 and 1,000 words, with an interesting
subject of your choice. Refer to the assigned readings for examples of a) how to
write a Q&A lede that sets up your interview and b) how questions are phrased
and answers edited. We’ll pay close attention to creating rhythm and
conversation in this form.
For guidance on Q&A's, read through the archives of Deborah Solomon in The
New York Times.
Excerpt from "Careless Love: The Unmasking of Elvis Presley," Peter Guralnick,

"The Once and Future Kissinger," Joe Hagan, New York Magazine, 2006

A selection of profiles by next week's guest speaker, Sheelah Kolhatkar

DUE TODAY: Your edited mini-profile and your Q&A

Guest Speaker: Sheelah Kolhatkar, Contributor to New York Magazine and Time

Subject: Finding and using secondary sources.

Secondary sources can make a profile. Friends, enemies, bosses, underlings,
third party observers and experts can fill in blanks, offer contradicting information,
center your profile subject in a more objective light and create narrative tension
and deeper insight. How do we find these people? Get them to talk about the
profile subject? Interpret their biases? Use what they say to enrich the narrative?

Write a short profile, about 1,200 words long, on a person of your choosing that
uses at least three sources in addition to the subject. Make six copies for

"Innocents in Babylon: A Search for Jamaica Featuring Bob Marley and a Cast of
Thousands," Lester Bangs, Cream, 1976
A selection of profiles by next week's guest speaker, Alex Pappademas.

DUE TODAY: Your short profile.

Guest Speaker: Alex Pappademas, Staff Writer, GQ Magazine

Subject: The art of storytelling.

You’ve got your interview, you’ve got your research notes and secondary
sources. Now how do you turn your subject’s life into a compelling narrative?
How do you decide where to begin and how to end? How to feather in
biographical details without losing momentum or distracting from your thesis?
Find the inherent tension in the person’s life and discover a story structure that
brings it out?

We’ll begin discussing your major profile ideas.

1. Read and edit the short profiles by your workshop colleagues.
2. Choose one of your pitch ideas and revise it for the next class.

DUE TODAY: The revised pitch letter for the major profile and your edits on your
colleagues' short profiles.

Guest Speaker: Adam Moss, Editor in Chief, New York Magazine

Subject: Celebrities, power and PR.

How do we negotiate access to people who are wary of talking or are under
public stress and scrutiny on a regular basis? Accessing celebrities and power
brokers in business and politics requires a complicated dance with handlers and
professional spinners. Knowing how they think and what their objectives are is
key to gaining access to your subject.
Over the course of this and the next two classes, there will be a special emphasis
on the “write around,” in which a profile is reported and written without the
cooperation of the subject. This is a practice that will become invaluable to you
as a professional journalist and one that will serve you even on stories where you
do have access.
You should begin work on your major profile.
"Drink Up," Dana Goodyear, The New Yorker
"A Hard Earned Life," Jennifer Gonnerman, New York Magazine
A selection of profiles by March 26 guest speaker, Duff McDonald.



Guest Speaker: Duff McDonald, Contributing Editor, New York Magazine, and
author of Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase

Subject: the art of the business profile.

We’ll discuss how to approach public and private businesses as distinct cultures
so you can comprehend the world within which your subject operates. Whether
it’s Martha Stewart or the owner a kabob stand, understanding what’s at stake,
how the game works and what rivals and allies are thinking, both inside and
outside a company, is key to getting at your subject’s ambitions, fears, dreams,
desires, etc.

We’ll also discuss the process of writing your major project. What problems are
you running in to? How are you organizing your time and information?

Prepare a two-paragraph progress report on your major profile. Where are you in
the process?


"The Primal Power of John McCain," Philip Weiss, The New York Observer, 2000
"Gore Without A Script," Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker, 2000
A selection of profiles by next week's guest speaker, John Heilemann.


DUE TODAY: Your progress report on your major profile.
Guest Speaker: John Heilemann, political columnist, New York Magazine
Subject: The art of the political profile.

Like business, politics has its own distinct culture and its own power matrix,
making politicians uniquely difficult profile subjects. From rivals and constituents
to consultants and aides, how do you understand and manage the galaxy of
motives and biases and come out with a real human story?


A selection of profiles by next week's guest speaker, Ariel Levy.


Guest Speaker: Ariel Levy, Staff Writer, The New Yorker

Subject: Ethics and accuracy in profiles.

When you’re writing about a single person, as opposed to an institution or a
trend, the stakes are naturally more personal. Everything you write will affect one
person inordinately, an individual who may have put a lot of trust in you, allowing
you into personal space and speaking his or her mind in full. We’ll discuss the
complicated line between truth-telling and betrayal – and how to manage it.


DUE TODAY: Your major profile, including copies for workshop colleagues.

For next two classes, we will workshop these profiles extensively and help each
other edit.
Prepare notes and edits on the major profiles from your workshop group.


DUE TODAY: Your edits and feedback on your colleagues' work.
We'll workshop the major profiles based on the group feedback.
1. Do a rewrite of your major profile based on feedback and edits.
2. Choose an excerpt from your profile, either the lede or a passage you believe
captures the essence of your piece, and prepare to read it in class.

DUE TODAY: Your revised major profile.
We'll have a reading of profile excerpts and discuss the process.
WEEK 15: MAY 7


Subject: On being a profile subject.

So you’ve written a major league profile. Now hear what it’s like to be on the
other side.

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