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JWF Fellowships to the Poynter Institute for Print, Broadcast and Online News Journalists

Poynter Experience

Reports from:Charelle Evelyn | Claudia Lau | Elaine O'Connor | Kelly Sinoski | Cale Cowan


Charelle EvelynCharelle Evelyn
Prince George Citizen

My week at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg was absolutely incredible. From Day One, I knew this was going to be an experience that would affect the way I worked for the rest of my career.

The seminar was billed as Investigating Local Government on a Shoestring Budget and it was a joint production between Poynter and Investigative Reporters and Editors.

The days were long, but incredibly fruitful. We spent time gathering tools to make us work smarter (and harder) such as putting and organizing data in to Excel spreadsheets to find stories through patterns; various Internet resources to conduct more-effective information gathering; ways to conduct daily quick-hit investigations as well as tips for doing them over a longer time period; and a collaborative list of story ideas to use as a jumping-off point.

I can't offer enough praise for the work done by Al Tompkins and Mark Horvit in putting this program together. They made complicated concepts simple and simple concepts hit home in an eye-opening fashion.

But the course was way more than a learning experience - as evidenced by the handful of people who couldn't help but get emotional during our 'graduation ceremony.'

There was something so satisfying about spending a week with other journalists who, despite working in different mediums and in different countries (I was the only one from a Canadian outlet), were all trying to find ways to overcome the same challenges of budget and time constraints and general pessimism over the state of the industry.

This was a group of people who want to raise the bar, not continue to do the same, because we all felt there was something missing from our work and its potential impact.

It isn't surprising that I would be skeptical about something, and heading into this week I was taking the testimonials touting Poynter as being a 'life-changing' experience with a few tablespoons of salt. But coming out the other side I can safely say that it's not hyperbole. They make you want to be better and that in itself is worth more than any of the practical lessons combined.

On returning to my newsroom I couldn't say enough good things about the week and would love nothing more than for every one of my colleagues to have the opportunity to take the course.

I'm so thankful to the Jack Webster Foundation for making this week possible.




Claudia LauClaudia Lau
Fairchild TV

Mobile and Backpacking journalist

backpack seminar backpack seminarThis 5 days seminar exceeded my expectation. Majority of the classmates had no experience with video production prior to the seminar, yet we were expected to produce a news story at the end of the day 4. It was surely an intensive seminar for we were learning a new skill and trying to master a new tool, but it was also surprisingly relaxing because of the patience from the amazing instructors and the support the class had shown to each other.

The instructors were all incredibly knowledgeable people working in the journalism industry. Not only did they teach us the skills to use the latest DSLR and the filming techniques, they also provided us with great real life examples to make every class so effective that we were able to absorb so much new information in such a short time. Most importantly, they showed us the passion and love they have in journalism that lit up every one of us.

At the end of day 4, we were asked to produce a news story from scratch. We all surprised ourselves by what we had accomplished in just 4 days. As a documentary journalist, I have always been involved with filming and editing, but never did any hands on job. I never imagined myself being able to shoot and edit videos. This seminar had opened my path to a new territory on a personal and professional level. The video production skill that I learned has already proven to improve my daily work quality. I now know what images I would need when I was out doing interviews, instead of having to go back to the field a second time after discussing with the producer. I can now give precise filming instructions to cameramen. More importantly, I am now able to structure effective images to create more compelling stories.

Having video production skills improved the communication between myself and the producer. We would now be able to discuss on images that we need and he can trust me to go out with a camera crew to get what is needed (producer/editor usually does not go out on location on with reporters). This seminar has really prepared me to be an independent backpacking journalist, and increased the quality of our overall production.
I am grateful for being chosen to accept the fellowship. It was one of the greatest experiences in my journalism life. I would recommend this seminar to any journalist who would like to take their professional career to another level and to give it a brand new perspective.




Elaine OElaine O'Connor
The Province

I attended the 2013 Poynter Institute course, Secrets of Great Enterprise Reporting. It was a career highlight.

Session attendees spent a week learning from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists and narrative reporting experts -- a rare opportunity.

The sessions were both inspirational and practical -- attendees left both with new goals and new tools to achieve them.

Much of the material focused on craft and high-level writing philosophies. We learned techniques for building stronger characters and compelling scenes, ways of writing for action, and tips for imbuing stories with deeper human themes and meaning.

These sessions were designed to help break reporters out of the tired inverted pyramid and help them find the heart of a story, then tell it in a way that actually connects with readers.

There were also excellent technical sessions on finding narratives in computer assisted reporting projects, on mastering the art of the interview, on mining for telling details, and on generating enterprise reporting ideas.

We learned tips for structuring long feature and investigative pieces via story mapping, tightening copy to improve language and readability, and organizing vast amounts of research into a cohesive and concise whole.

Attending the Poynter Institute was also an unparalleled networking opportunity. I met more than a dozen dedicated journalists and communications specialists from across the U.S., and from as far away as Finland, Denmark and Australia. Their jobs spanned print, radio and television -- there was even an attendee from NASA. Their diverse perspectives contributed an additional layer of learning.

Attending the Secrets of Great Enterprise Reporting Poynter Institute course was an unforgettable experience.

It was a lot of work and a lot of learning, but also a lot of fun.

I would recommend it to any B.C. journalist interested in stepping back to consider their work and role as a journalist apart from the daily churn of news-gathering, with the goal of refreshing their skills, honing their craft, and recommiting to telling memorable stories that matter.




Kelly SinoskiKelly Sinoski
The Vancouver Sun

Inspired. That's all I can after I spent the Poynter Institute recently for the Backpack and Mobile Video Reporting course.

When I got into print journalism in the early '90s, I never expected the significant challenges the newspaper industry would face in two decades. But the Poynter seminar gives me hope for journalism in the future.

I really want to thank to the Jack Webster Foundation for the opportunity to attend this seminar. The week was long and intense but thanks to the instructors, Al Tompkins, Regina McComb and Lynn French, we got a great understanding of the basics of shooting and editing video.

I still have a lot to learn but as Lynn French said "it takes practice, practice, practice" and as soon as I got back all I wanted to do was take my camera and start capturing sequences -- wide, medium, close up, super close up, action, reaction -- of every assignment and adventure. I was even tempted to buy an i-Phone so I could be ready for any on-the-spot storytelling.

The course was so great because although it focused on video, it taught some of us print journalists how to incorporate it in our daily newspaper lives and make our stories more viable in these changing times with non-newspaper readers with short attention spans. We learned how to shoot breaking news on the ground (the instructors set up situations for us and played the characters themselves), as well as how to structure narratives and feature stories using natural sound and/or narration and stand-ups.

It made me realize that good story-telling can be told in so many different ways, and on different platforms. One of the best reminders -- for both print and video reporters -- came from Lynn French, who told us to keep an eye out for those quiet characters. They might not be loudest and brightest in the room but often they have the most to say. And if you get good audio, that will trump video every time. Information on proper light, rule of thirds and what microphones to use in certain situations was also invaluable.

The instructors were engaging, interesting and total characters who love their craft and make you want to be better. And the other participants were also inspiring, coming from radio, newspapers, and public relations, as well as schools: many were teachers from elementary and high schools across the U.S.

Al Tompkins is an amazing instructor, and I would thoroughly recommend anyone who wants to get into video to attend this course. He gave us great feedback on what we did right and wrong in our final projects, and what works and what doesn't in telling a video or web story. He also had us set up a Facebook page and has been posting tips and videos so we can keep learning.

The week was so much fun that it was really hard to leave. But I believe it gave me a good grounding in the basics of shooting for the web or video and I hope to share what I learned with the others in our newsroom.




Cale CowanCale Cowan
Victoria Times Colonist

After 24 years in the newspaper business, I thought I was pretty well educated. After six days at the Poynter Institute, it was clear how much more there was to learn.

The intense, inspirational and transformative How to Wear Five Hats and Succeed course was a revelation in my professional life. It awoke me from a professional slumber I wasn't aware I was in. It reminded me of the good work I had done and the possibilities that were still before me.

The other 15 members of the Five Hats program and I were treated to three of the best professional instructors you could hope for, covering everything from time management to people management to story management. It was practical and surprising and fun. During a time when the mood in our newsrooms can be a little gloomy, it was great to spend time with people who are optimistic about our craft.

The talent of the Poynter faculty is that they don't simply stand up front and lecture. They have a great knack for involving the participants in the discussion and encouraging us to talk and learn from each other. With a group that had people from all corners of the United States, our corner of Canada, and even Denmark, there was no shortage of perspective.

There were brand-new editors in our group and others who had been on the job for decades. Together, we discovered our common ground and also shared the skills and experiences that complemented what we already knew.

I left with better skills for editing copy, coaching writers, generating ideas, dealing with tough conversations and creating guiding principles for our newsroom. All of the learning comes together on that final day when you stand before the group and present your "Great Boss Plan."

I returned to the newsroom inspired and ready to get to work. I recommend the Five Hats course to any editor in any newsroom.

The work of the the Jack Webster Foundation fellowship program to make this kind of professional development available to B.C. journalists is invaluable and I encourage anyone to take advantage of the opportunity.




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