OnPoint Radio Series on the Conference

Press Release From On Point

Earlier this month, some of the country's best writers met in
Cambridge, Massachusetts for the 2003 Nieman Conference on
Narrative Journalism to share their best work. As part of a
continuing tradition, On Point brings you a selection of their stories
from across the country, delivered in the authors' own voices. The
conference was organized by Harvard University's Nieman
Foundation for Journalism

In Part I of the series we hear from New Yorker writer Susan Orlean,
UC Berkeley's Cynthia Gorney, author and journalist Adrianne
Nicole LeBlanc, and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Thomas
French, Sonia Nazario, Jacqui Banasynski and Victor Merina.

In Part II of the series we hear from independent broadcast
journalist and four-time Peabody Award winner Jay Allison,
Washington Post's Anne Hull, director of the Neiman Program on
Narrative Journalism Mark Kramer, co-founder of Mother Jones
Magazine Adam Hochschild, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
Samantha Power, writer Arlie Hochschild and Columbia University's
Patricia Williams.

Posted in about the conference, speakers.Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, speakers.Anne Hull, speakers.Arlie Hothschild, speakers.Cynthia Gorney, speakers.Jacqui Banaszynski, speakers.Jay Allison, speakers.Mark Kramer, speakers.Patricia Williams, speakers.Samantha Power, speakers.Sonia Nazario, speakers.Susan Orlean, speakers.Tom French, speakers.Victor Merina on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink

Asking a Question, Painting a Portrait

By Amy Wu and Kelly Carr

Jacqui Banaszynski
Jacqui Banaszynski
There are many types of profiles, Jacqui Banazsynski said, and knowing how and when to use them is a skill of the successful profile writer. The best writers navigate between the cradle-to-current profile (the one we assume we always have to do; a sweeping biography of a person), the niche profile (a tightly focused examination of a person’s role as it relates to a specific story), the paragraph profile (one sharp detail or moment that quickly illustrates a person’s life), and others.

Banaszynski spoke about the ladder of abstraction, stretching from universal themes to precise details, like the story of one individual or family. It helps to actually draw a ladder and write down the subject of the piece at the bottom, and work up to the greater theme at the top.

Interviews are the key to a good profile, Banaszynski said. She offered some tips on how to elicit information from reticent sources, including:

1. Ask questions so deep and sometimes so peculiar that the person is more likely to give you his or her “internal” versus “external” resume. (Banazsynski: “Who you are vs. what you’ve done.”)
2. Putting the subject in a familiar place might make him or her feel more at ease to talk about things.
3. Push back against people, Banaszynski said. Put yourself in the interview a little. Throw some verbal assumptions at them. For example, if interviewing a car accident victim, you might say, “You must be terribly angry about what happened. Did you want to hit someone?” In agreeing or arguing with your statements, they’ll refine your sense of who they are and what they feel — “No, I wanted to throw something.”

Amy Wu is a freelance writer based in New York. Kelly Carr is a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Posted in interviewing, profiles, sessions.Profiles in Journalism, speakers.Jacqui Banaszynski on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink