Q & A
How does the application process work?
If you are interested in Portfolio you must first be accepted into NYU’s Master’s program in journalism. For options, see the list of courses of study on the department’s main website. In your initial application, your personal statement should indicate in no more than a sentence or two your interest in Portfolio and the portfolio idea you have in mind. Once you have been admitted to the graduate program, those candidates considered qualified will be invited to complete the Portfolio Questionnaire in a second round. (Of course, you should start thinking about your answers now.) The Portfolio class will be selected from that pool.
If I were invited to submit a proposal, what would it look like?
We will need a brief description of the kind of work you would like to pursue in a Portfolio. See the Portfolio Application Questionnaire below, and look at some of the sample proposals we’ve posted. Ideally, you should have educational, avocational or professional background that complements the subject area you choose as well as something resembling a body of work (even if it is only a few articles or proposals), which you would like to expand and extend. Think of the process in the same spirit that a budding novelist or poet applies to an MFA program: you send a collection of poems, a few short stories which you hope have the makings of a novel. We need some idea of what you might have to show in terms of work ready for publication by the start of your second term in the program and subsequently.
How specific do I need to be in my ideas? I have a theme I would love to work on and some basic ideas within this but do I need to be set in the angles I might come from?
You should be as specific as possible. Obviously your actual immersion in the subject will have an impact on what you ultimately produce. But do as much reporting as you can and try to be as concrete as possible. What we need to be able to ascertain is the significance of what you propose, its viability, and how prepared you are to actualize what you are proposing.
What is the benefit of doing this program over the straight BER, CRC, SHERP, Magazine, Reporting NYC, Reporting the Nation, or News and Documentary programs?
Two elements are particular to this experiment: (1) the way it will direct a good part of your time at NYU to gaining knowledge and expertise in the specific subject you stake out within your concentration and (2) the emphasis it places on writing about that subject. It will direct the reading you do, the mentors we hope to connect you to in your area of inquiry and, hopefully, the editors who will publish your work.
What will it mean in terms of course load? Is there an extra course burden associated with this program?
No, Portfolio doesn’t add to the number of courses you take at NYU. Rather, it substitutes for two writing seminars, one in each of your last two semesters. Precisely which course Portfolio substitutes for is something you will arrange with the director of your concentration.
If I am invited to apply, what form should my application take?
Simply answer, in narrative form, the questions listed below:
The Portfolio Application
Those invited to apply will be asked to complete the following questionnaire. The application may take several hours to complete. We want you to think for yourself, not just regurgitate, or tell us what you think we want to hear. We’re seeking students who can build a distinctive body of work, create their own portfolio of outstanding pieces — solid journalism, in any genre, any medium.
We want to learn something about your background, the knowledge you bring to journalism, the specific ideas and aspirations you have. We also want to hear you think out loud about your work — even if it is all to be completed in future semesters.
In answering the five application questions, we want you to explain the variety of journalism you want to do, as well the special strengths you bring to it. We’re potentially open to any project, specialty, subject theme, angle or “beat.” But we want you to be as clear and vivid as you can in identifying its overall shape and theme.
This application is the first step. By the program’s end you will emerge with a portfolio of your best stuff, which coheres because you’ve thought it through. Here is your chance to define the journalism you feel most driven — and qualified — to do. Of course, you might be doing it already. If so, tell us about that. We expect portfolio work to evolve as students rethink their original ideas, so you are not setting your agenda in stone. We simply want to know what that agenda — your plan in work — is.
The application consists of five questions. You are asked for 500 words five times, for a total of 2,500. We’ll take a little less, we’ll take a little more, but try to stay within this range.
What body of work do you bring to graduate study in journalism?
Describe your existing “body of work” as a journalist, critic or just someone who writes. We’re mostly interested in published work, especially of course journalistic forms; but if you have yet to do any journalism, or break into print, then tell us about the writing you have done. What kind is it? Where have you been published? What have been your major themes? Where do your strengths and weaknesses lie as a writer or journalist?
Where do your particular commitments and interests lie?
Tell us about your background — your academic degree(s), intellectual interests, work experiences, life experiences, or other sources of inspiration — and explain how this background informs your proposal.
What kind of journalism inspires or informs what you seek to do?
Good writers are good readers. Who/what have you read/seen and been inspired by? Why, and in what way, have those particular works inspired you? Think analogically: what works of journalism would you compare your portfolio project to? What gap in the world of journalism do you envision your project as filling?
Propose your plan for building a portfolio of work at NYU.
Tell us about the portfolio of work you would like to complete during your studies at NYU. Which form — or combination of forms — could you imagine your portfolio project taking? A series of reported pieces, a long work of social criticism, profiles, a multi-part series, an investigation, a book proposal? Some combination of these? What might the title of your portfolio be? Think of a mock headline that captures the spirit and content of the prospective body of work. Even if your plans are somewhat hazy, do the best you can.
Be as specific as possible, and take some time to do some reporting before you respond. A few interviews with real people will do wonders for your proposal. Big ideas are essential, but just as essential is to think of specific stories through which you can explore those ideas.
Avoid the temptation to address a subject directly. Try “triangulating”: Analyzing one phenomenon by way of pieces on another. For example, the best way to write about, say, urban environmentalism might not be a series of stories on the “Greening of New York.” Rather, a series of pieces about garbage might give you better purchase on the subject because it is a more specific route to the larger subject. Think of NYC as a big black box: people, energy, ideas and material go in, and (among other projects) garbage comes out. What happens to all that garbage? What businesses have arisen to address the problem? How do artists and visionaries look at the future of garbage? How do urban planners think about the role of garbage in the city?
Another example is music. One could write directly about music (reviews, band profiles, etc.), but one could instead triangulate and look at sound itself. What, if anything, is lost if every generation hence hears nothing but digital music? How does ambient sound influence the way we shop and live? What role does noise pollution play in urban life? Here is a “music” portfolio that explored some of these ideas: marchese/.
Why NYU? Why New York?
Tell us specifically how you plan to report on your subject during the school term using New York and its vast resources as your primary operating base. All projects must have a strong NYC-orientation. It can be a project of national or international scope, but one that can be reported effectively from the city and its environs (with the usual extensions of email and telephone). You should not plan a project for which travel is pivotal. If you do plan to include travel, it should be supplementary and confined to the vacation periods. Regrettably, the program will probably not be able to fund it.