Taking Narrative to the Next Level

By Matt Thompson

Roy Peter Clark, Poynter's vice president and Senior Scholar, has written an article for Poynter Online about a narrative series written by Oregonian staff writer Tom Hallman, and edited by Jack Hart. Not only is it a spectacular model of storytelling, but Hallman and Hart took care of attribution issues with a separate section called "How We Reported the Story." Take a look.

Matt Thompson is a reporter for Poynter Online.

Posted in attribution & sourcing, disaster & rescue, scenes, speakers.Jack Hart, working with editors & reporters on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink

Dispatch Home

By Lorrie Lykins

Cambridge, December 6, 2003. The wind whipped the snow around in swirling miniature tornadoes that lashed the trees and piled angled drifts against the windows that looked like forgotten sails. I found myself distracted by the drama of the weather, my eyes wandering to the windows to watch the endless rounds of the snowplows trying to keep the hotel drive clear.

As a Floridian experiencing her first Nor’easter, I was fascinated. Between sessions, I walked through the snow, picked it up, sifted it through fingers swathed in Lands End polartech gloves purchased online shortly before my trip north. The snow was an inconvenience to many – for me it was the first snow I’ve walked through since 1970.

Tom French
Tom French

The hotel listed and groaned under the weight of our volume, our numbers. Some rooms were so packed, people sat cross-legged on the floor, notepads in hand, pens poised, others stood in clusters in doorways spilling into the corridors, straining to hear the words of Tom French, Chip Scanlan, Jacqui Banaszynski. Their pens were poised too.

I wrote for three days, scribbling snippets from workshop speakers and conversations in the hallways, writing down e-mail address of new friends, web site addresses, book titles.

“Write as if your life depends on it, because in a way, it does.”

“Be relentless, write quickly, you can edit later – but just get it down.”

“We all doubt our ability from time to time. It comes with the job.”

“I’m dying for Mediterranean food. Do you know of any place?”

I had the good fortune, quite by accident, of sharing a dinner of Thai food with Harvard Fellow Ted Gup one night. Ted responded to my question of what is was like to work at The Washington Post as a cub reporter in the 1970s by telling me about the first week he was there, a green kid from Akron.

Ken Burns

“I ran around the building asking everyone for their autographs,” Ted laughed between bites of chicken satay.

“Later, when I was assigned to work with Bob Woodward, I was mortified thinking he would be convinced I was a complete idiot, but, of course, he didn’t remember me as the autograph seeker.”

Ken Burns took the time to speak to every person who lingered after each of his appearances. When I sidled up, camera in hand and sheepishly asked a friend of his to take our picture, Burns grabbed my camera, grinned and said “You know, I’m a pretty good photographer.” He threw one arm around me and extended the other out and said “Cheese!” Snap, flash. Can’t wait to have my film developed.

Lorrie Lykins is a full-time freelance writer based in the Tampa Bay area.

Posted in speakers.Ken Burns, working with editors & reporters, writing on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink

First Time at Bat

By Nancy Wright Beasley

David Halberstam
David Halberstam
I entered the president’s ballroom on this, my introductory visit to the Nieman Narrative Conference, not sure what to expect. David Halberstam, one of my best friend’s idols, was to give the opening keynote address. “You lucky dog,” my friend, a baseball fanatic, had said. “I’d give anything to go with you. Just remember everything he says, especially about baseball,” she added.

I was early, but Halberstam was already in place, sitting just a few feet from the podium with Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism. I sat down a few feet from the two men still hearing my friend’s admonition ringing in my ears.

Several minutes passed while I struggled with whether I could, or whether I dared, approach him. My mother always said, “Nothing beats a failure but a try, so I decided to try. I slipped from my seat and knelt on one knee beside Halberstam. He leaned his left ear slightly toward me.

“My best friend so admires your work,” I began, “especially about baseball. I just had to tell you hello for her. She won’t believe I’ve had the chance to meet you.”

“Well,” he said, “let’s write something for her. Do you have any paper?”

Surprised at his request, I held up two empty hands.

Halberstam quickly rifled through the manila folder on his lap and found a half-size sheet of Nieman Foundation stationery with a message that began, “Dear David Halberstam. Welcome to Cambridge and to the Nieman Conference…”

“This is my schedule for while I’m here,” he said. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Barbara Irby,” I replied.

With a swift few strokes, he wrote, “Dear Barbara. Wish you were here. Best, David Halberstam.”

The conference hadn’t even begun, and I had already scored a home run.

Nancy Wright Beasley is a freelance writer and adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Mass Communications.

Posted in sessions.Keynote: The Pleasures of What We Do, speakers.David Halberstam, working with editors & reporters on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink