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Poynter Experience

Reports from:Chris Corday | Jackie Lieuwen | Monica Martinez | Tracy Sherlock


Chris CordayChris Corday
CBC Vancouver

NPPA Advanced Storytelling Workshop 2015
San Marcos, Texas

My week in central Texas with some of the best visual storytellers in the world was at the same time inspiring --and incredibly humbling.

The 6 instructors at this very special, once-a-year course are masters in their field. But they're also completely aware of what can make TV stories compelling, and are eager to pass their secrets on to anyone willing to learn.

The 30-or-so students in the course came from all over North America and other parts of the world. But it's definitely wasn't any kind of vacation.

There were a number of 18-hour days during the week, with mornings spent in the classroom watching examples of great storytelling and learning how to incorporate it into your own stories.

Evenings were spent researching, pitching, shooting, writing and editing TV stories late into the night, with a hard deadline to make it all realistic. I teamed up with a journalist from Denmark, and together we found and shot two original stories around the Austin area.

It all very was stressful and tiring, but the hands-on learning was totally eye-opening and we learned so much from the experience. We watched our stories with our classmates and instructors who picked them apart. They celebrated our storytelling successes, and offered many pointers on how we could still improve. You needed a thick skin to get through the critiques, but you walked away with so many new ideas on how to tell better, more impactful, and more human stories.

One of my favourite and most relevant sessions was about taking "less-than-optimal" TV news assignments and making them shine. This is something I deal with on a daily basis, and the course really helped me become more creative with my news gathering, and storytelling. I've come home with the attitude that "I'm only as good as my last story", and I actually feel like tough assignments are a fun challenge to make into compelling TV.

Part of the reason I wanted to go to this course was because I contribute to my newsroom by watching and critiquing stories of my fellow journalists who are also eager improve their storytelling skills. I plan to continue these sessions armed with many new examples of great stories to inspire with.

At a time when the field of TV news is shrinking, or at least undergoing a huge transformation, it was so important for me to rediscover how vital and unique of a medium that visual storytelling still is. That's really at the heart of what I learned at the workshop. I hope that feeling stays with me for the rest of my career.

Every journalist should have the opportunity to have such an amazing experience as I did in Texas. Thank you so much to the Jack Webster Foundation for getting me there.




Jackie LieuwenJackie Lieuwen
Houston Today

Efficiency and strength are two things coveted by every writer.

Thanks to funding from the Jack Webster Foundation fellowship and teaching from Poynter University, I've improved in both.

Early this year, I took an online seminar called Becoming an Effective Writer: Writing with Clarity and Organization. It was such a blessing!

The online seminar structure was great for me, because I could do the course at my own pace while I was working, and integrate the ideas into my writing as I went along.

I have been a reporter for two years and have never had any specific journalism training. I've struggled to keep stories short and not get bogged down with too much information. It was often hard to know what to cut and where to go with my stories.

With the Poynter training, I learned to find the focus of a story, measure content and quotes by that focus, and cut extra content. It taught me to take a step back, get the big picture and develop a plan before plowing into a story. I learned ways to structure a story effectively, which really helps when I'm writing stories with lots of information and multiple sources.

The second big thing I learned was about clarity. Because I grew up reading a lot, I have a pretty good grasp on writing clearly, but there are extra challenges with newspaper-style writing. It's easy to jam too much information into a sentence because of necessary details, titles and limited space. This course helped me see how I can simplify sentences, and make things easier to understand and more interesting for the reader.

I'm so thankful to the Jack Webster Foundation for the opportunity to develop my writing. My course gave me a taste for all there is to learn. I'm truly inspired to be better writer and hope to take more training in the future.




Monica MartinezMonica Martinez
CHEK News

NPPA Advanced Storytelling Workshop
April 6-11, 2014 San Marcos Texas

The six days I spent in San Marcos, Texas for the NPPA Advanced Storytelling Workshop was massively inspiring and career changing.

Our faculty included some of North America's best storytellers including Boyd Huppert Jonathan Malat John Goheen (both are 3 time winners NPPA Photographer of the Year) NBC Correspondent Joe Fryer, among many others.

The first few days were focused on in classroom learning. The second half of the week, morning sessions consisted of classroom sessions with afternoons and evenings reserved for shooting, writing and editing. The faculty are not only great storytellers but they are also great teachers. They presented the material in an engaging, interactive way that resonated. I learned how important focus is, even though I thought I knew all about focus going into this, I realized how important it is to write out the focus statement and make sure every line and clip in the story links back to that focus.

We learned how to structure our sentences and eliminate unnecessary words for better writing, how to layer our stories to reveal moments and surprises, and how write to pictures rather than over them.

Before arriving, the faculty gave us an assignment to complete. Each of us downloaded raw footage that was shot after a tornado hit Colorado and had to pack the story. At the workshop, in smaller groups, we discussed focus, writing, structure and saw how others structured the same story.

I partnered up with a former colleague to file two deadline stories over the 6 days. One was a hard news story, the other a feature. We were responsible for coming up with the ideas and setting up the shoot. We were given 8 hours for to turn the first assignment around, and about a day and a half for the second. It was invaluable getting hands on experience to quickly put into practice everything we were learning. We broke out into smaller groups before the assignment to discuss focus, and returned to our groups after for feedback. There was also opportunity for one-on-one critiques with the faculty.

The great TV storytellers in North America have been a huge inspiration but I never knew the specific techniques I could use to emulate them. After this workshop, I have a much better idea how I can become a better writer, and more effective storyteller.

NPPA provided a website showcasing the stories showed during the lectures. I will be putting on a "lessons learned" workshop to my colleagues at CHEK News later on in the summer.

Thank you to the NPPA workshop faculty for your invaluable lessons and thank you to the Jack Webster Foundation for making attendance possible!




Tracy SherlockTracy Sherlock
The Vancouver Sun

I was fortunate to attend The Secrets of Great Enterprise Reporting course at the Poynter Institute's Florida campus in May 2014, and I found the experience to be intense, as well as inspiring and challenging. The main instructors were Butch Ward, senior faculty and former managing director at The Poynter Institute, and Jacqui Banaszynski, who won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for a series called "Aids in the Heartland." Both Butch and Jacqui are impressive teachers, who are obviously deeply committed to excellence in journalism.

The class of 18 journalists from all around the world were also lucky to learn from several other instructors including author Roy Peter Clark and other investigative and data journalists. We started off the week listening to The Beatles song Eleanor Rigby, which was used as an example of the necessary elements of storytelling and then worked our way through topics that ranged from how to brainstorm ideas using a story wheel, to how to write effective stories that are short. In between, there were sessions on woven narrative, theme and meaning, the power of ideas, how to bring characters to life among others. Some of the sessions that were only an hour long could have easily filled the entire week.

All of the students interviewed and wrote, then shared and critiqued each other's work throughout the week, giving us a chance to put what we learned into action. A session on forensic editing taught us how to easily and quickly analyze our own work for hidden patterns, bad habits and lazy writing.

It was interesting and energizing to talk to and work with journalists from different countries and different working environments. There were four Danish journalists in the class, one from South Africa, one Canadian (me) and the rest were from all over the United States. Some worked in TV, others on the Internet, while some were freelancers and others employed full-time.

While I certainly hope to actively use everything I learned at The Secrets sessions, I have a feeling I won't remember it all. The three key points I decided to make my priority are to specifically focus on theme and meaning using the ladder of abstraction, to use more dialogue and fewer quotes, and to stand on my research to use less direct attribution throughout a story.

I would highly recommend this week of professional development to any journalist and would like to thank the Jack Webster Foundation very much for the opportunity to attend, to travel to lovely Florida, and to meet and network with this wonderful group of journalists.




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