Online | Nonfiction | Seminar

4-Week Online Nonfiction Seminar: Writing Profiles & Immersive Journalism

How can you convey the essential qualities of interesting subjects? How much context do you need to make your pitches come to life? We'll answer these questions and many more in this guide to the basics of journalistic profiles and immersive reporting.

During class, we'll read classic examples of the forms, discuss the essential qualities of on-ground reporting, and practice making these character- and scene-based pieces work. We'll also spend time constructing pitches and, finally, sending them out to editors. Participants will be asked to identify a subject of their choosing, workshop one pitch and one short (1000- to 1250-word) piece based on their subject, and read one article or excerpt a week. In effect, we’ll go through the entire process of profiling and/or in-person reportage, from recognizing a story idea to pitching it to finding your voice and approach.


- How to find, approach, and capture the essence of great subjects

- How to make individual or immersive stories come to life on the page through research, context, and description

- How to successfully pitch these stories and work with editors

- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


Week One: Introductions and Subject-Finding. Who/what makes a good narrative journalism subject? How can we turn small stories in to big ones?

Reading for Week Two: Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s “A Most American Terrorist”

At-home assignment: Write one paragraph about your subject and why they should be written about now.

Week Two: Point of View. How do you approach your subject? How do you incorporate yourself into the story, if at all?

Reading for Week Three: Terry Southern, “Twirling at Ole Miss”

At-home assignment: 1000- to 1250-word introduction to your subject. Drop the reader in where they’ll see the most. How would you start a story about them? Why?

Week Three: How to report. What’s a good detail, or a good quote? How do you talk to subjects and find new angles? How much context does a reader need?

Reading for Week Four: Paige Blankenbuehler, “Cashing in on Standing Rock”

At-home assignment: Write a 3-paragraph pitch for the publication you’d most like to write this story for.

Week Four: Pitching. What makes a good pitch? How much leg work needs to be done beforehand? How can you get an editor’s attention?

At-home assignment: Get out there and connect with some editors!

John Lingan

John Lingan is the author of Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk, which was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2018. He is working on a biography of Creedence Clearwater Revival for Da Capo, and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Oxford American, Pacific Standard, and many other publications. 


“[Lingan] often conjures the place and its people with novelistic detail, saying a lot with a lyrical little... You end HOMEPLACE thinking that every American town could use a book like this one written about it; every town could afford to be this lovingly but critically seen. Like many of the best country songs, the book is sentimental in a way that makes you wonder why sentiment is such a dirty word.”


“John Lingan writes in penetrating, soulful ways about the intersection between place and personality, individual and collective, spirit and song.”

Leslie Jamison author of THE EMPATHY EXAMS and THE RECOVERING

“HOMEPLACE is a magnificent work, new school journalism with old school heart. The combination of intellectual integrity and human curiosity, human compassion, is as intoxicating as it is educational. This is a book in service of place and time, which is to say, literature.”

Rich Bass author of THE TRAVELING FEAST

"....the class [John] taught was IMMENSELY valuable."

former student

"I learned a lot and appreciated all the information offered in that class."

former student