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

Weighty Waves, An Impression (After William F. Woo)

By Geo Beach

Snow like light; white, crystallized rain dragging up the Eastern seashore. A short song, the Boston Herald truck spins out in front of the small store, still closed, early morning, that sells beer and lottery tickets later in the day. The sky falls down and the newsprint is wet and the weather collates the sections, news into sport -- an acrostic that deconstructs hard copy.

There’s a story still flying, created on earth and launched into the heavens above this fractured firmament. Radio tells the story. And indie Jay Allison has been telling public radio how to tell it since a friend loaned him a tape recorder one day in 1977 and he began collecting the voices of regular folks. Jay’s audacious vision -- or, audition -- helped launch transom.org, a place to learn to make radio, and prx.org, an online audio distribution system, tools that are transforming the methods and content of broadcast journalism.

Jay Allison is introduced, once, twice. Then the microphone is his.


He whispers. “We’ll start with a human voice.” There is a room full of journalists, and many eyes are closed. A 15-year old boy is talking to himself. A morbidly obese 15-year old boy in his “mood time”, 1:15 a.m., talks to himself. He wants to be skinny, he wants to eat the ice cream in the fridge.

“Radio likes the first person,” Allison can give a wry smile with his vocal chords. “It’s a voice in your ear.” He is irresistible. “We don’t have earlids.”

Jay’s First Laws of First Persons: Self-indulgent; no, too easy. Self-absorbed; no, too much. Self-aware; yes, that resonates.

Then like a bio-digital jukebox, Jay rocks through his countdown of Firsts: The Witness, The Guide, The Natural, The Forced Confession, The Buddy, The Explorer, The Diarist, The Reluctant Allison. This last by Jay, calling classified ads in Chicago, looking for a dog, maybe looking for friendship on a big planet, looking. Heads are cocked, listening -- “His Master’s Voice”.

There is a room full of journalists, and there is an odd air in the room -- a wonder, a marvel, a nonplussedness -- as if Allison might have come from outer space, or at least another place. More eyes are closed or askance, and pens laid down.

To Jay, “Do you ever miss the visual?”

“I miss eyes.”


“What you get with all the pieces is: you hear the hearts.”

The newspapers are wet. Somewhere a radio is playing.

Independent journalist Geo Beach contributes commentaries to NPR, columns to the Anchorage Daily News, and essays to TomPaine.com.

Posted in film & radio, memoir & personal essay, sessions.What About Me?, speakers.Jay Allison on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink