JWF Fellowships to the Poynter Institute for Print, Broadcast and Online News JournalistsPoynter Experience
Reports from:Melanie Nagy | Tina Lovgreen
CTV National News
Poynter: TV Power Reporting Academy
Poynter's Power Reporting is a well-known and respected journalism course. It combines online learning with in-person coaching as a way to help reporters tell stronger stories. So when the Jack Webster Foundation - once again offered its fellowship program - I knew I had to apply. Then when I landed the opportunity, I was excited and keen to kick off the learning process. I have to say - Poynter - did not disappoint!
The course duration is five weeks and it kicks off with online learning. I have to admit I was a bit of a skeptic when it came to the web seminars. I am typically not a big fan of web based courses as I love interaction and in person connections. However, the online portion is conducted via video link and I found it to be very effective. We covered topics such as "exploring motivators to strengthen stories" and "finding leads, focus and story shape". We were also given an opportunity to submit stand-ups for instructor and peer review. I found the online seminars informative and interesting. There were some technical glitches along the way that slowed the learning process, but for the most part the lessons were great. I also liked that the sessions were recorded and available for review at a later time. I found that to be a great way to reabsorb the information. As for the content of the online portion, much of the information experienced journalists have likely heard before but that doesn't mean it wasn't valuable. It was a great reminder to try different techniques as a way to shake-up your storytelling. Often in this business - we are so busy - we fall back on personal habits and patterns to pump out the news. But the online sessions forced you to get out of your comfort zone and think critically about how you approach a story. Due to the time zone, I attended the sessions first thing in the morning. Taking in all the information before my busy work day allowed me to immediately implement the lessons. I found that very helpful.
In addition to the on-line course, there was a hands-on weekend at Poynter's campus in St. Petersburg. This was originally scheduled for the beginning of Sept, but Hurricane Irma had different plans for us. Due to safety concerns, Poynter cancelled the in-person session. However, staff immediately made plans to reschedule the session. I found the Poynter crew to be very helpful and organized when it came to this. In the end, we all made it to Florida in late September. It was definitely worth the wait!
The schedule - while at Poynter - was packed. The topics ranged from "connecting with your audience on deadline" to "the power of critical thinking" to "becoming a story machine" and so much more! Every moment - while at Poynter - we were engaged and actively learning.
I found almost all topics explored were beneficial not only to me but to my newsroom. For example, we had an important discussion about "ethics calls on deadline". I think the lessons learned are directly applicable to my daily routine. It is also something I can share with my colleagues. Since being back from Poynter, my newsroom has had to make tough ethics calls and the information from Poytner really helped.
Another session called "Social Media Ninja" was also extremely valuable. During this hour, we were given valuable tools and tricks to help sharpen our social media interaction. I have and will continue to share these tips with my colleagues.
It should be noted that most of the journalists in the course, were American. There were only three Canadians. Not all topics were relevant to what we do in Canada. For example, there was a lengthy session on "guns and ammo". The information is information and valuable but not as applicable to what I do on a daily basis.
As for the instructors, they were informative, approachable and fun. Al Tompkins is a wealth of knowledge. He is also very good at engaging a group and inspiring self-learning. I also have to say he plays a good "devil's advocate". He challenges you and pushes you to take different approaches and "think outside the box". Brendan Keefe was also fantastic. He brought enthusiasm and new insight. He is also a daily working reporter. I found that to be very helpful as he truly understands the challenges we face everyday.
In addition to the great instructors, the participants were also terrific. Everyone brought different skills and experiences to the table. Some of the participating journalists have only been in the field a year; others have been working for over a decade. The different experience levels helped keep the course and content refreshing.
As you can tell, I am hard pressed to find much criticism of the course. The only area where I would have liked a little more input or a slightly different approach was that of the "story review". We were given 30 minutes (in smaller groups) to share our work with one instructor and our peers. During these sessions I was hoping to get input on voicing, writing style and on camera presence. However, most of the discussion was about "why the story was chosen" and "why do it at all". I understand the challenge was to make us see different angles, but in reality there are a lot of days when we have to deliver assigned stories. I would have liked a little more review of performance as I think that is something we can always improve!
All in all, I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to participate in Poytner's TV Power Reporting Academy. Our industry has experienced cutbacks and numerous economic challenges in recent years. With that, I feel the emphasis on continual learning is dwindling. In my experience, it is rare to have coaching sessions or training in a newsroom. There doesn't seem to be enough money, time or bodies to facilitate group learning. That reality makes this fellowship very important. I am so grateful for the opportunity. I not only learned new skills, but I was able to re-evaluate how I do my job in an ever changing landscape. When you get a bunch of talented journalists together to talk about their craft it is electrifying. Exploring what I do - with passionate and dedicated people- is truly inspiring experience.
National Press Photographers' Advanced Storytelling Workshop
The National Press Photographer's Advanced Storytelling workshop was incredibly inspiring yet demoralizing. Inspiring because you spend the entire week learning from the best visual storytellers in the industry, demoralizing for much of the same reason. They set the bar so high when it comes to telling stories that you realize what a long way you have to go.
That being said, I would highly recommend this hands-on workshop to anyone who is interested in learning how to tell memorable stories, because the instructors don't hold back, they share every trick and tip they have.
It all begins with focus. Yes, we've heard this many times in J-school but they teach you to narrow your focus down so tightly that it may even come down to a single phrase or word. From there, everything you shoot, everything you write has to link back to that focus.
My second biggest takeaway was in regards to shooting. At the workshop, they teach you to shoot from every angle possible, to be creative, to take risks. But that doesn't include just the b-roll, but the interviews too. Time and time again, we lock off our cameras and shoot the interview and it is the same shot that is used over and over again in the piece. But you wouldn't use the same b-roll shot twice, so why use the same interview shot twice? This is the simplest takeaway from the course and one that you can start applying to your work right away. Change your camera angle after you hear the sound bite you want to use, this way you have a variety of shots to chose from. As a video journalist this is easier to do, but if you're working with a cameraperson you may need to come up with a signal.
My last takeaway is that most of us are lazy. Yes, we love our jobs and we work really hard. But we often cut corners like using a shotgun microphone instead of a lavalier, because we think it takes less time. This workshop will really inspire you to not settle. We owe our best to the people who let us tell their stories and we owe it to each other, as visual storytellers, to inspire each other to raise the bar. When we produce memorable content, we also help keep our industry alive.
Thank you so much to the Jack Webster Foundation for this amazing opportunity, I'll be forever grateful for their generosity.