New Media as a Tool for Social and Political Change

AMST 1900H

Thursdays, 4-6:30


Professor Adrienne Keene

Course Description: This course will take a critical, theoretical, and practical approach to the examination of new media as a tool for challenging inequality and working toward goals of social justice. In addition to foundational readings on power, media, social change, network theories, and others, we will also have hands on opportunities to work in mediums such as blogging, video production, podcasting, and more, utilizing the resources available at Brown. The goal is for students to leave the course with an understanding of the cultural, political, and personal possibilities and limitations of social and new media in the realms of advocacy and social justice.


Learning Goals (taken directly from Swearer Center Learning Outcomes and Competencies):

  1. Critical Reflection: Demonstrates evidence of growing self-awareness and development through ongoing reflection on experience, practice, and context.
  • Identifies assumptions (taken-for-granted ideas, “commonsense” beliefs, inherited values) that underlie beliefs and actions.
  • Assesses and scrutinizes the validity of assumptions through dialogue, practical experiences, and expanded understanding of context.
  • Challenges assumptions, becoming more inclusive, critical, and integrative, and uses
    newly-formed knowledge to more appropriately inform future actions and practices
  1. Integrative Learning: Connects and extends knowledge across fields of study and inquiry and in relation to experiences gained outside of the classroom.
  • Uses skills, approaches, and knowledge from multiple disciplines and perspectives to understand and develop responses to complex questions, challenges, or problems.
  • Makes connections between academic studies (theory) and experiential learning contexts (practice).
  • Adapts and applies skills, abilities, theories, or methodologies gained in one situation to new situations.
  1. Cultural Understanding and Humility: Demonstrates capacity to be transformed – in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior – by engagements with multiple points of view, experiences, and worldviews.
  • Investigates and understands cultural, historical, social, political, and economic factors that shape communities and the perspectives and identities of community members.
  • Investigates patterns of subconscious and conscious bias and stereotyping and recognizes one’s own positionality and privilege.
  • Understands dynamics of community mistrust arising from historical and institutional practices and policies.
  • Works actively to redress power imbalances in social interactions and decision-making.
  • Demonstrates ongoing engagement in lifelong learning, critical self-reflection, and reflective practice across contexts.
  1. Ethical Practice: Demonstrates understanding of ethical and social justice concerns and increased sense of social responsibility. Explores intersections between identity and privilege; possesses moral and political courage to take risks to achieve greater public good.
  • Recognizes other points of view and actively considers standpoint of others (empathy).
  • Analyzes complex ethical and social justice issues.
  • Identifies and challenges power imbalances.
  • Acts respectfully and responsibly in all forms of community work.
  • Takes informed and responsible action to address ethical and social justice challenges.
  1. Civic, Community, and Public Engagement: Understands roots of inequality and injustice in communities and develops knowledge, skills, values, and motivation needed to bring about positive social and political change.
  • Understands how to identify the needs and assets of communities.
  • Understands benefits and potential challenges of community-campus partnerships.
  • Analyzes structural conditions that have resulted in injustice, inequality, and other forms of social marginality.
  • Identifies and analyzes relevant pathways for social change.
  • Works collaboratively with community partners to develop and implement appropriate social change strategies.
  1. Effective Action, Collaboration, and Leadership: Demonstrates ability to operate effectively – individually and collaboratively – in planning, coordinating, implementing, and evaluating actions required to advance social change.
  • Understands and articulates multiple modes of social change and interconnected systems and structures of power.
  • Identifies points of entry for individual and community action to address systemic challenges and develop strategies for change.
  • Identifies strengths and resources in oneself and in teams, and builds constructive and meaningful relationships.
  • Navigates existing structures to yield sustainable, just, systemic change.
  • Communicates clearly and effectively across contexts, in groups, and in various media.
  • Acts effectively as a participatory, inclusive, purposeful, and process-oriented leader.

The specific skills that students will use and develop in order to achieve these intellectual goals are:

  Reading critically a variety of media—from books, book chapters, journal articles, advertising, popular culture, blogs, podcasts, radio and audio stories, and websites.

  Producing scholarship in different forms ranging from essays that require the students to both reflect on assigned reading and their lived experience to critical analyses of media.

 Producing creative audio work in different forms including interviews, storytelling, etc.

  Integrating knowledge from different disciplines in order to develop a new understanding of new media, social movements, technologies, social justice, and storytelling

  Participating in in-class and online discussions to further explore issues raised in the assigned readings.

  Participating in in-class workshops on audio production to demonstrate acquired skills


Course Requirements:

Credit-Hours notice: Over 14 weeks, students will spend 3 hours per week in class (42 hours total). Required reading for the seminar meetings is expected to take up approximately 7 hours per week (98 hours). In addition, writing and researching response essays, course facilitation preparation, and the final project is estimated at total of approximately 40 hours over the course of the term.


Your final grade will be calculated and based on (yes the numbers are a little weird, sorry!):


Assignment Points/%
Attendance and participation (including weekly canvas posts) 25
Critical Analysis paper 13
Out on the Wire challenges (9 total) 27
 In class sharing/critique 5
Final audio project write up 10
Final audio project  20


Attendance and Participation (25%):

This course is a seminar style course, and as such attendance and participation are very important. This portion of your grade will be calculated with a combination of physical attendance in class, as well as weekly posts to Canvas discussion boards.


Since our course only meets 13 times, attendance to class is of utmost importance. You must notify Professor Keene via email if you are missing class, and while illness and other unforeseen circumstances occur, all absences should be excused with a dean’s or doctor’s note. If you miss more than one class, your grade will begin to be affected, more than two classes may put your passing the course in jeopardy.

Canvas discussion posts:

Each week, by Wednesday at midnight, you need to post 2-3 questions/reflections about the week’s reading. Think of these as discussion starters for class the next day— In these responses, you may choose to engage a single text on its own, or draw connections between several readings. Suggested questions to guide your responses: What do you see as the most valuable contribution, thesis, or idea from this material? What aspects of the author’s findings or argument do you find especially useful, well-argued, problematic, confusing, or unconvincing? How does this connect to some of our key ideas or themes in the course?

The goal of these responses is not simply to demonstrate that you have carefully read and considered the readings with a critical eye (that is assumed) or to provide summaries. You should use them as an opportunity to share candid impressions, questions, and things that you find puzzling or contradictory.

Be sure to read your classmates posts—you are welcome to respond to their questions and posts, and this will count towards your quota of 2-3 comments/questions for the day. These homework posts are not a useless exercise, but rather a way for me and your weekly facilitators to direct the class material and discussion in a way that will best serve your interests.

In addition, I welcome you to submit online articles, think pieces, twitter threads, audio stories etc. that are relevant to the course content. These can be submitted directly (via email) or posted on the resource sharing discussion board on canvas. Most of the readings are academic articles, but these more public facing pieces are incredibly important as well and will contribute to our overall understanding.

Out on the Wire Storytelling Challenges (27%–3pts/challenge):

A large part of the course will be developing your own audio stories based on a cause, community organization, or individuals that is/are working towards goals of social justice broadly defined. In order to build the knowledge base for creating these stories we will be following the model laid out by Out on the Wire, a graphic novel and accompanying podcast. The podcast has “challenges” per episode, which range from creating “focus sentences” to holding practice interviews and critiques. These challenges are due in class each week they are assigned, and we will go over them as a group in a collaborative sharing environment where we can offer feedback and advice to fellow classmates.

Critical Analysis (13%):

For this assignment you will put into practice the theories we are learning in the readings to provide an analysis of a piece of new media, utilizing the readings and theories from class: Who created it? What is the context surrounding it? What power structures are involved? What is your assessment of the representation? Why? What specific elements (descriptors, visual cues) lead you to that assessment? What course readings support your assertions? How could the creator make it better? This paper should be approximately 4-5 pages.

Due 3/1, by 5pm, uploaded to Canvas

Sharing day presentation (5%): On our last day of class we will have opportunities to share the final projects with one another. Since the final due date is not until the next week, these can be snippets or works-in-progress. We will skype in a guest with expertise in radio/audio stories to listen and offer feedback to final projects, and tips for how to pitch your stories to radio outlets. This presentation will be worth 5% of your final grade.

Final Project and Write up: The final project for the course will be the audio story you have developed throughout the semester. This finished, polished piece will ultimately be shared on a public website and you will be encouraged to pitch the story to radio networks. The piece will be 5-15 minutes. In addition, you are asked to submit a 3 page write up that uses the readings from the course and outside sources to analyze your audio story, provide additional context, and offer reflections on the process of creating the work. These papers may be excerpted (with permission) for the final class website sharing the projects.

FINAL PROJECT DUE MAY 13, 11:59pm, uploaded to Canvas


Classroom Policies:

Attendance: You must notify me via email if you are missing class, and while illness and other unforeseen circumstances occur, all absences should be excused with a dean’s or doctor’s note. If you miss more than one class, your grade will begin to be affected, more than two classes may put your passing the course in jeopardy.

Late Paper Policy: As the weekly challenges are to be discussed in class, no extensions will be given and they are expected to be completed upon arrival to class. The critical analysis and the final project have an automatic two day grace period, beyond which they will begin to lose a half letter grade per day. No extensions beyond the two day grace period will be given barring extreme extenuating circumstances.

Plagiarism/Academic Honesty: Any breach of academic integrity will not be tolerated and will be reported immediately. Infringement of the academic code entails penalties ranging from a zero on the assignment, to reprimand, suspension, dismissal, or expulsion from the University. Students should refer to the Brown Academic Code for more information:

 Grade policy: All grades are final, and students can track their progress throughout the semester on Canvas. There will not be any make-up or extra credit assignments offered. Incompletes may be negotiated with a dean’s assistance in extreme circumstances.

Accessibility and Accommodations: Students gain access to academic learning in a variety of ways. Brown University is committed to full inclusion of all students. Please inform me early in the term if you have a disability or other conditions that might require accommodations or modification of any of these course procedures. You may speak with me after class or during office hours. For more information, please contact Student and Employee Accessibility Services at 401-863-9588 or Students in need of short-term academic advice or support can contact one of the deans in the Dean of the College office.

Names and Pronouns: If you go by a different name or gender pronoun than the one under which you are officially enrolled, please inform me. Students are expected to respectfully refer to each other by correct names and pronouns during class discussions.

Weekly Topic Breakdown:

Week 1 (1/25): Intros

Week 2 (2/1): What is New Media? 

Week 3 (2/8): Social Movement Theory and New Media

Week 4 (2/15): Technology, power, and Critical Theory

Week 5 (2/22):Twitter and Hashtag Activism/Slactivism

Week 6 (3/1): Citizen journalism

Week 7 (3/8): Podcasting and Audio storytelling

Week 8 (3/15): Blogging/Vlogging and Youtube

Week 9 (3/22): Marginalized identities online and social justice


Week 11(4/5): New Media at Standing Rock–Sioux Surveillance exhibit

Week 12 (4/12): Trolls, hate mail, and the dark side of the internet

Week 13 (4/26): TBD depending on class interest–what’s missing?

Week 14 (reading week) (5/3): Sharing Day

Final Project Due MAY 13 by 11:59pm, uploaded to Canvas


Required Text: 

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio” by Jessica Abel (it will be available in the bookstore in a few weeks, but is also available for purchase at amazon in both hard copy and e-book formats) $12.95

Description: Go behind the scenes of seven of today’s most popular narrative radio shows and podcasts, including This American Life and RadioLab, in graphic narrative. Every week, millions of devoted fans tune in to or download This American LifeThe MothRadiolabPlanet MoneySnap JudgmentSerialInvisibilia and other narrative radio shows. Using personal stories to breathe life into complex ideas and issues, these beloved programs help us to understand ourselves and our world a little bit better. Each has a distinct style, but every one delivers stories that are brilliantly told and produced. Out on the Wire offers an unexpected window into this new kind of storytelling—one that literally illustrates the making of a purely auditory medium.  With the help of This American Life‘s Ira Glass, Jessica Abel, a cartoonist and devotee of narrative radio, uncovers just how radio producers construct narrative, spilling some juicy insider details. Jad Abumrad of RadioLab talks about chasing moments of awe with scientists, while Planet Money’s Robert Smith lets us in on his slightly goofy strategy for putting interviewees at ease. And Abel reveals how mad—really mad—Ira Glass becomes when he receives edits from his colleagues. Informative and engaging, Out on the Wire demonstrates that narrative radio and podcasts are creating some of the most exciting and innovative storytelling available today.

Accessing Texts:

Unless otherwise noted, all readings and articles will be available linked on this site. All videos, podcasts, and films will be available via streaming or the course site.

Course Structure: 

Each class period will be divided in two, there will be theoretical/”academic” readings and audio/radio storytelling content. We will spend the first half of the class meeting discussing the readings, and then transition to the second half to talking about the assigned radio pieces (and later on in the semester the audio assignment for that week), or the community engagement discussions. Once we get to the “On the Wire” podcast pieces, each week will have an accompanying chapter in the graphic novel as well.


Week 1 (1/25): Introduction/syllabus

The post for week 1 can be found here, with accompanying assignment.


Week 2 (2/1): What is New Media? How do we engage community ethically?


Lister, M. (2009). New media: A critical introduction. Taylor & Francis. Section 1: Pages 9-57 

Radio/Community: How do we identify potential community partners for stories? How do we navigate our own positionalities in those spaces?


Smith, L. T. (2013). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. Zed Books Ltd. Chapter 1:  (to begin to think through power relationships, colonization, positionality, the role of outsiders “researching” communities)

Week 3 (2/8): Social Movement Theory and New Media


Della Porta, D., & Diani, M. (2009). Social movements: An introduction. John Wiley & Sons. Ch 1, 1-29

Schroeder, R., Everton, S., & Shepherd, R. (2017). Mining twitter data from the Arab Spring.

Radio/Community: Class field trip to Brown Digital Studio (in the library) to learn about tech resources available at Brown: 

Hands on demos of digital recorders and software for the semester.

We will be using Zoom recorders and Hindenburg editing software 


Week 4 (2/15): Importance/Power of Storytelling


Ganz, M. (2011). Public narrative, collective action, and power. Accountability through public opinion: From inertia to public action, 273-289. 


Ganz, M. L. (2001). The power of story in social movements. 

The Storyteller in All of Us (TedxPortland talk with Zach King): 

Extra-Optional (from previous syllabus iteration on technology, power, and critical theory):

Lister, M. (2009). New media: A critical introduction. Taylor & Francis. Section 1: Pages 57-99 

Out on the Wire: 

Read: Pages 15-43

Episode 1: Eureka: Episode one is about ideas. We investigate how to find them and how to follow your taste with the help of Ira Glass, Alex Blumberg, Stephanie Foo, and more.

Weekly Challenge (due in class 2/15):

  1. Come up with an idea for a narrative project. We’ve got lots of suggestions for way to generate ideas in the episode, and, if you’re working in fiction, you can try the juxtaposition game I used to create Trish Trash. Cut random words out of newspaper headlines, and combine them with random Instagram photos. Just whatever picture comes up in your stream. Write down whatever you come up with, no judgment. Or get the actual set of character prompts used to spark Trish Trash.
  2. Once you have a list of ideas, pay attention to your taste—which idea starts turning your wheels? Which one is keeping you up at night thinking about it? Which one are you telling your friends about?
  3. When a random association or notion attached to that idea comes into your head, chase it down. Research your idea by looking up related things online, or by questioning your friends about it, or by painting a picture. Get deep, and start attaching information and inspiration to it. You’re going to need a notebook with you at all times.

Your mission is to write up a short, one-paragraph description of your idea, and post it. Do not ramble! Just tell us what’s intriguing about this idea, and what directions it’s leading you in. What is starting to stick to it?


Week 5 (2/22): Twitter and hashtag activism/Slactivism


Latina, D., & Docherty, S. (2014). Trending Participation, Trending Exclusion?. Feminist Media Studies14(6), 1103-1105.

Skoric, M. M. (2012). What is slack about slacktivism. Methodological and conceptual issues in cyber activism research77, 77-92. (starts page 77 of PDF)


Loza, S. (2014). Hashtag feminism,# SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and the other# FemFuture. Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology5

Out on the Wire:

Read: “Amuse yourself: Ideas” pg 45-76

Episode 2: Focus: How can we know if an idea is a good one? This time on Out on the Wire, we investigate how to refine story ideas using the focus sentence and the X/Y story formula. Plus, Ira Glass recounts a reporting trip gone sideways and Jay Allison’s takedown of formulaic storytelling.

Weekly Challenge (due in class 2/22):

Your mission is to craft a focus sentence or an XY Story Formula, or, even better, both, for your narrative project. 

Remember, a focus sentence is:

Someone does something…



and the XY story formula is:

I’m doing a story about X…

and it’s interesting because Y…

Your first try, like mine, might be kind of enh. But just because your focus sentence isn’t any good doesn’t necessarily mean that your story is no good. Dive in again and make it better.

Where can you seek the magic that Soren Wheeler wants for Radiolab stories?  What is the universal question you’re addressing? Bring all that back to your focus sentence and your XY, and build your plan to go forward. This is your path into more focused research and deeper interviews.

Week 6 (3/1): Citizen Journalism 


Barnard, S. R. (2017). Tweeting# Ferguson: Mediatized fields and the new activist journalist. New Media & Society, 1461444817712723.

Antony, M. G., & Thomas, R. J. (2010). ‘This is citizen journalism at its finest’: YouTube and the public sphere in the Oscar Grant shooting incident. New Media & Society12(8), 1280-1296. (make sure you’re logged in to your Brown account to access)

Out on the Wire: 

Read: “The Heat of Their Breath: Character and Voice” pgs 77-106

Episode 3: Walk in My Shoes: Today we dive deep into character, characters that let us walk in the shoes of someone else. But how can we create characters that feel genuine while also functioning to move the story? Glynn Washington, Joe Richman, Ira Glass, Jay Allison and more are here to help us figure out how to make characters that connect with an audience.

Weekly Challenge:

Your mission this week is to create a profile of one or more primary characters in your story.

I need you to make some hard choices, and write up just a couple of sentences about the character, detailing only whatever backstory is absolutely necessary to make your story work, and NO MORE.

If you’re doing non-fiction, write about your character as if he or she were fictional. Make up the things about your character that you hope to find in real life, that would make your story awesome. But then, please, be prepared to chuck all this and be surprised by reality when you actually sit down with him.

Below I’ve posted a handout that I use in my classes called “(More than) 20 Questions for Characters,” that comes from that very same chapter in Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, my textbook, as the original Trish illustrations that sparked the whole saga. In fact, it’s part 2 of the same activity as the spark cards I used to create Trish in the first place.

It’s a kind of worksheet, to help you think through some of the things you might need to know about a character, and to run the character through her paces a bit, with questions designed to evoke stories. Treat it as a starting point, answering whatever questions are useful, adding some new ones that I hadn’t thought of.

But this work, and this worksheet, is just for you: I don’t want to see the full run-down. Just the few details from the backstory needed to make the story work.  

Week 7 (3/8): Podcasting and Audio storytelling


Explore Now Here This, audio storytelling platform created by Brown University Students. Listen to a few stories, keep track of which ones and your thoughts on them to share on Canvas and in class.

Article: McHugh, S. (2016). How podcasting is changing the audio storytelling genre. Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media14(1), 65-82. 

Explore Indian and Cowboy Media Network, an indigenous podcasting network managed by Ryan McMahon, read this interview by Liza Yeager:

Out on the Wire:

Read: “Keep or Kill: Story Structure” pgs 107-144

NOTE: We’ve switched episode 4 and 5 since we practiced interviewing this past week

Episode 5: You’re not Lucky, You’re Just Good : Don’t be lucky. Be good. Manufacture your own luck with the right kind of preparation for an interview. We hear from Zoe Chace, Robert Smith, Ira Glass and Jenna Weiss-Berman on how to research, prepare, and execute an interview that will provide exactly what you need. Plus we talk to New Yorker staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar about her interviewing technique and her new book.

Weekly Challenge:

This week I want you to do an interview.

But before you do the interview, I want you to conduct a pre-interview or do research and map out major plot points and turning points. Create a list of questions. Think through “feeling questions”. Make your map. This map what you’ll post on the Out on the Wire Working Group, to get help building the best plan for your interview.

If you’re working on an idea story, where there is not necessarily a chronology to hang things on, first of all, look for one. But if that’s not working, figure out what questions are likely to produce major idea groups or plot points or facts. Search for anecdotal hooks you can use to help audience get through, and understand the stakes.

Put together your chronology, turning points, and list of questions for your interview into a post no longer than 300 words, and post it on the Working Group for feedback and further refinement before you actually do the interview.

Week 8 (3/15): Blogging/Vlogging and Youtube


Keller, J. M. (2012). Virtual feminisms: Girls’ blogging communities, feminist activism, and participatory politics. Information, Communication & Society15(3), 429-447.

Raun, T. (2015). Video blogging as a vehicle of transformation: Exploring the intersection between trans identity and information technology. International Journal of Cultural Studies18(3), 365-378.

[CONTENT WARNING: SUICIDE] “The Logan Paul Suicide Video Shows YouTube Is Facing A Crucial Turning Point” (Buzzfeed)

Out on the Wire:

Read: “The Deep Sea: Sound” Pgs 145-166

Episode 4: Bare Bones: This episode is a flight check: We’re making sure the underpinnings of our stories are tight and structured by utilizing the narrative arc, chronology, and framing. You’ll hear from Ira Glass, Chana Joffe-Walt, Sean Cole, and in a brand new interview, from Jonathan Mitchell of the radio-drama podcast The Truth. Jonathan explains his storytelling philosophy and breaks down the creation of one of his stories, “Naughty Or Nice.”

Weekly Challenge:

Get your ducks in a row: Do a Story Madlib.

Someone is motivated to do this thing he’s doing because of this…

but then this happens, and so he has to do this….

And therefore, this…which leads to this…and finally, you won’t believe it, but this

And the reason this matters to everyone walking the face of the earth is THIS.

Remember, as you lay out the chronology, to focus on conflicts, turning points, moments where there is a dilemma. If you’re missing hunks in the middle, that’s OK. Get as far as you can.

…and that last bit is for everybody. You want to check yourself now. Are you making a story that’s just weird or exotic, or does it have something larger to say back to the world?

If you’re making a character-centered work, you additionally want to make sure you’re clear on two things:

  • What is the spark?

  • And then define the question that it poses for the protagonist, that the ending will need to answer.

If you’re working in nonfiction, you may not know the answer to those two questions before you interview, but you can certainly identify the options.

Week 9 (3/22): Marginalized identities online and social justice


Craig, S. L., & McInroy, L. (2014). You can form a part of yourself online: The influence of new media on identity development and coming out for LGBTQ youth. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health18(1), 95-109. IdentityOnline_JGLMH_CraigMcInroy_2014

Fink, M., & Miller, Q. (2014). Trans media moments: Tumblr, 2011–2013. Television & New Media15(7), 611-626. 

On the Wire:

(no reading)

Episode 6: Proof of concept: It’s time to get some ink on that page. We’re in the lab, testing our story hypotheses in the crucible of the writing process. We put things in order, break them down, build them with little blocks, iterate, signpost, and answer the question, “what does Buffy feel?” With the help of Ira Glass, Joe Richman, Soren Wheeler, Glynn Washington, Sean Cole and more.

Weekly Challenge:

Write a scene. It can be any scene, it doesn’t have to be the first scene in your story. But if you’re posting to the Working Group, make it a short one.

Whether or not you’re working along with us in the Working Group, here’s what you want to do:

Is there a chronology to rely on? great. Start with that. If not, put your ideas or bits of tape in an order that builds from individual elements to coherent argument.

Ask yourself questions:

  • Why is this scene in the story?
  • What do we get from it?
  • What does Buffy feel?
  • What change does it represent? Remember: Just as stories are about change, and characters are about change, scenesare about change.

Write it, then iterate it. Read it out loud to someone and get feedback. Record it, then listen on your headphones while taking a walk. Rewrite.

Then check it against your hypothesis. Does this scene change what you understand about your story?

Post your scene.



Week 11(4/5): New Media at Standing Rock, Sioux/Sousveillance–Sioux Surveillance Exhibit visit

Class will meet at the JNBC to view the exhibit, and then we will meet for the rest of class there. 


“Standing Rock and the Future of Drone Activism and Journalism” (Witness): EyesInTheSky_Drones_StandingRock_v1_0 (full report)

Mann, S., & Ferenbok, J. (2013). New media and the power politics of sousveillance in a surveillance-dominated world. Surveillance & Society11(1/2), 18. 

Out on the Wire: 

(no reading)

Episode 7: Dark Forest: The Dark Forest is where we go when we’re deep in the writing process and lose our way. Overwhelming feelings of self-doubt, confusion, and inadequacy threaten to halt our stories’ progress. Sometimes, we forget why we started on the path in the first place. Luckily, many people have been here before, and they can help us find a way out. This week, we get very lost, and find our way back out again, thanks to Jad Abumrad, Jay Allison, Ira Glass, and more.

Weekly Challenge:

Collaborate. I know I told you to do this last time, but I’m betting you didn’t do it.

So now, I’m keeping it simple: Hold a Focus Session. Find someone to sit down with you for half an hour, and explain to them what you’re working on, and where you’re stuck. They don’t need to be experts on your subject or your medium. You just want their honest feedback and their honest questions.

Record your conversation. If you have a smartphone, it will have a recorder built in. If not, you can get a cheap digital voice recorder. It’ll be worth having.

After your Focus Session, I want you to post a quick debrief of what you learned.

If you want to find someone to work with who is more attuned with your goals, find a local or online writers’ group and ask for volunteers, then meet at a cafe or do a Google Hangout or Skype conversation with them. But make sure you’re talking out loud, not exchanging email. The talking part is the magic.

I know this will make you feel vulnerable. It’s scary to admit you are stuck. It’s scary to ask something of someone. But I think you’ll find that it’s all worth it. And very likely your collaborator will too. Just make sure you pick up the tab for the coffee.

If, on the other hand, you’re struggling to even get your creative work off the ground, I’ve been writing a lot about creative project management on my blog, including designing some activities you can try.


***Optional (but strongly encouraged) companion event: Sioux Surveillance: Drone Warriors at Standing Rock (panel) 4/10 at the JNBC.***


Week 12 (4/12): The dark side of the internet


“The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online” (Pew Research Report) 

Black Mirror Episode TBD

Out on the Wire: 

Read: “Your Baby’s Ugly: The Edit” Pgs 167-202

Episode 8: Your Baby’s Ugly: Our stories are our babies, but not all babies are cute. This week, we figure out just how far we’ve still got to go when we take a finished draft of our own show and subject it to the cold scrutiny of an edit by Robert Smith and Jess Jiang of Planet Money. Our baby was kinda messed up, but he’s much prettier now.

Weekly Challenge:

Get an edit. This is different from the challenge for episode 7, where I suggested you to do a focus session, which is editorial collaboration that  happens during the conceptual or writing phase of a project.

An edit is a critique, and it happens on an at-least-semi-complete draft of a piece. This is when most people think of showing their work to someone (and often chicken out).

But it’s not that common that you’ll think to read your work aloud to someone. Unless you’re critiquing comics, where the images are key, I’d say this is the moment to pull out those junior-high drama club chops, and really perform your work, even it’s for an audience of one.

Your collaborator or collaborators don’t need to be editorial experts to have useful feedback, they just need to be able to get in touch with how they feel at any given moment in your story. have them take notes as best they can, and when you go back over the work after reading it, try to listen to what they say with an open heart, as hard as it can be to hear.


Week 13 (4/26): TBD based on class needs/interests 


I have purposely left this week open to develop based on class needs and interest–what do we still need some foundational knowledge in? What would we like to have more information about? What would be helpful as we move forward beyond this course? 

Out on the Wire:

(No reading)

Episode 9: Make it Work (optional): It’s one thing to finish a story, it’s another to make stories your career. In our final episode of season one of Out on the Wire we talk to three creative professionals, Jakob Lewis of the podcast Neighbors, Dave Kellett of the comics Sheldon and Drive and the documentary Stripped, and Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer of the comics Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly, about how they create their work, put food on the table, and make a life in the constantly shifting creative landscape.


Week 14 (5/3-Reading Week): Sharing/Critique Day!

Bring your stories ready to share with the class! These are expected to be polished, nearly final, but you are able to incorporate class feedback after today and before the final is due.


Final Project Due 5/13, 11:59pm