Newmark J-School Introduces Intensive Documentary Production Program

  • By Andrea Stone
Marco Poggio

In the latest example of how it prepares students for the most in-demand jobs in the industry, the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY will launch its first specialization this fall in documentary filmmaking.

The new specialization, part of the existing Master of Arts in Journalism program, will allow students to learn all aspects of documentary production while focusing on completing a single doc project over the course of their study.

The move comes at a time when the documentary form is exploding. In 2018, the top three grossing docs brought in nearly $50 million at the box office and streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu are packed with documentary series.

“We launched this program in response to student interest to focus on longer documentary projects,” says Travis Fox, director of visual journalism. “We have designed the whole curriculum to support students creating long-form projects over the course of two semesters and the summer.”

Though the new specialization doesn’t start until the fall, the Newmark J-School already boasts many alumni who turned their visual journalism classes into successful careers in documentary.

Among them is Samantha Stark, a video producer at The New York Times who is helping launch its new television documentary program; Alden Nusser, a freelance short docs producer whose work has been published by the Times, The New Yorker, VICE, and other outlets; and Maria Villasenor, who produces docs for the investigative and narrative film organization Retro Report.

The J-School’s documentary program is headed by Yoruba Richen, an award-winning filmmaker whose most recent work, “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,” aired on The Smithsonian Channel in February 2019. The documentary serves as a reality check on the fictionalized Oscar-winning movie “Green Book,” which among other things, erroneously suggests that segregation and racism existed only in the South.

“The new specialization allows students intensive study in all aspect of documentary film production while getting real-world experience in the industry,” Richen says.   “Upon graduation, students will be equipped to enter the fast-changing, exciting world of documentary film  – from producing short-form docs to documentary series to making feature films.”

Students interested in the documentary specialization can either apply directly during the regular M.A. in Journalism admissions process or transfer in after the first semester.

In the first semester, those specializing in documentary take the same basic courses as other students. They also pick a subject concentration, whether that’s business, arts and culture, health and science, international, Spanish-language, or urban reporting.

The curriculum gets more specialized during the second and third semesters when documentary students take more intensive classes and fewer electives. In another twist on the regular M.A. program, documentary students do a four-week summer internship instead of the usual eight weeks. This gives them more time to work on their film projects.