jack webster foundation

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

Poynter Experience

Reports from:Paula Baker | Anita Bathe | Robert Buffam | Tamara Cunningham | Dan Fumano


Paula BakerPaula Baker
Global BC

I attended the 2015 Poynter Institute's The Effective Reporter course; which proved to be a serious dose of inspiration.

The three-day intensive workshop had a stellar group of instructors that included Jacqui Banaszynski, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 while at the St. Paul Pioneer Press for her series "AIDS in the Heartland"; and Jan Winburn, the senior editor for 'enterprise' [or long-form feature writing] at CNN Digital.

As an online journalist on a small web team, it's not unusual to get inundated with the daily grind of the newsroom and the need to "get the stories out." Having an opportunity to take this workshop with these two female instructors in particular, provided a boost of inspiration as well as practical information.

Sessions like Finding Focus: Discovering the Lens that will magnify your story and 10 Questions that lead to a great story by Windburn were great for thinking more like a storyteller versus always 'reporting.'

Being a journalist for almost 15 years, the workshop also had some great refreshers around interviewing and techniques around story structure - writing with cinematic scenes. Having access to someone like Banaszynski, who has worked as a reporter and editor for more than 30 years in many papers across the U.S., was absolutely invaluable. Her sessions allowed me to refresh my skills, hone my craft and remember to tell the stories that matter.

Another area the workshop covered was data journalism. The workshop brought in two visiting instructors - Chris Davis, the managing editor of the investigations team at the Tampa Bay Times and one of their award winning staff reporters, Alexandra Zayas. Whilst it was great getting to see how they dig into their stories, it wasn't wholly applicable to people who lived outside the state of Florida, let alone the U.S. It would have been great to get a broader sense of the tools their team used to collate and crunch the data versus the reports they have access to since it varies so greatly between Canada and the U.S.

But regardless of the lack of scope in the data journalism sessions, the information I was able to get from the instructors is enough to pass along to my team and get us going in the right direction.

Also as a side note, it was an interesting peek into how a national award-winning investigations team works.

But by far one of the most valuable portions of the workshop for me was getting one-on-one coaching from an instructor of my choosing. As a journalist I'm always looking for stories but getting to sit down with Jacqui Banaszynski to brainstorm a few of my ideas was not only incredibly encouraging but also rewarding.

The attendees - roughly 20 in total - were mostly print journalists and Americans. The only non-Americans were me and a data journalist/staff writer from The Irish Times. It would have been nice to get a bit more geographical diversity in the workshop.

Overall getting to attend a course at Poynter was an incredible experience. I thoroughly enjoyed being given the ability to learn more about my craft.

I would recommend it to any journalist who is looking to get an opportunity to learn, refresh their skills and get access to some of the best - and passionate - educators/reporters in the business.




Anita BatheAnita Bathe
News1130

I attended the Reporting and Editing Summit at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. The course was one week full of education, inspiration and intensity. I not only learned from all of the instructors, I also learnt immensely from my fellow classmates who were some talented journalists from around the world.

The overall theme focused on long-form investigative pieces. Instructors helped guide us into telling those stories that matter and doing it in a manner that will make people remember what they've read. A lot of that came through writing structure but also constantly revising your work in order to come up with the best possible piece in the end. It was interesting to see how so many of the award winning journalists had worked in investigative teams to accomplish their best work.

One of the most valuable sessions for me was one around story generation. We were given several tips on how to come up with ideas and keep them moving forward. Through this session I was able to understand how to take my thoughts and turn them into fresh pieces for regular beat work but also for long-term projects. I have already put these tricks to practice in my newsroom.

We had a short session on digital media and in those few hours I learned about a number of different apps that I'm able to use in my daily duties. If anything I would have liked to have had more of a focus on digital because that is vital right now for newsrooms.

Most of the instructors are Pulizter Prize winners and are full of wisdom, so one of the most appreciated parts was getting to have one on one time with them. This enabled me to ask questions and float around ideas I had been thinking about moving forward with.

Some of the attendees in our seminar were not journalists but instead people who work in communications. At first I was a bit worried about the diversity in the group but it turned out to be okay. It made me realize the power of storytelling and how it can be used in so many different ways, not just through news. While some of those people may not tell the same types of stories I do, they still tell stories that really matter.

By the end of it all, I felt extremely ready and eager to tackle some long-term projects I have bene thinking about but haven't gotten around to. It's actually very tough to describe my experience in words because it was more than I expected. This seminar motivated me to be a better journalist.

I'm so grateful to have been able to attend the Poynter Institute, it's something I will never forget!




Robert BuffamRobert Buffam
CTV News Vancouver Island

I attended the Hands-On Backpack and Mobile Video Workshop at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was an intense but inspiring five days, focused on teaching reporters how to shoot and edit video. Students were provided their own camera gear for the duration of the course. By the end of it, we had all shot and edited several projects.

I was one of nine students in the class. Three of us came from Canada. The other six were American journalists, from locations across the United States. Our instructors, Al Tompkins and Eric Seals, created an environment that made each of us feel comfortable making mistakes while learning the technological side of our craft.

Al is senior faculty at Poynter, and has over thirty years of experience as a journalist, including as a reporter and a news director. He was able to draw on that experience in his instruction by, for example, giving context for the principles he was teaching. He also was able to offer practical advice that reached outside the specific scope of the course to matters of presentation, writing, and professional ethics.

Eric is a photo and video journalist for the Detroit Free Press. He was unfailingly patient in helping us navigate the camera gear and editing software. He was passionate about journalism, and helping others to improve. Eric has had some fascinating experiences in his career as a journalist, including working as a photographer embedded with military in Iraq. His willingness to share these experiences was a memorable part of the five days.

The substantive course curriculum included the basics of shooting (such as lighting, framing, depth of field and sequencing) and editing (like audio and video transitions). The classroom instruction was theoretical, followed by sessions of practical application in the field. Most days we would be tasked with shooting and editing a simulated news event. We would then edit our footage into a finished product - on deadline - for critique by our instructors. Because the class was so small, we were able to get plenty of feedback on our work.

We also learned techniques for shooting stories using only an iPhone or iPad. Jon Busdeker taught that part of the course. He is a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times. Although I am unlikely at this point to be asked by my newsroom to shoot an entire story with an iPhone, it was interesting to at least see the potential of handheld technologies.

For me, the course was valuable because it offered a chance to immerse myself in shooting and editing, and to do that in a controlled environment. As a reporter in a busy newsroom, that is a rare opportunity. More memorably, and perhaps more importantly, it offered me the chance to meet a group of talented journalists from across North America. It was inspiring to see the passion shared by my classmates, and exemplified by our teachers.

I am grateful to the Webster Foundation for giving me this opportunity. I would strongly recommend the Poynter program to any reporter who wants to develop skills as a video journalist, or simply obtain a solid understanding of shooting and editing principles. You will learn those principles. You will emerge humbled by the talents of some of the industry's best, and motivated to improve.




Tamara CunninghamTamara Cunningham
Nanaimo News Bulletin

The week-long seminar the Secrets of Great Enterprise Writing at the Poynter Institute was an inspiring reminder about the power of stories and how we create them.

Over six days we learned the importance of details, right down to the look of somebody's fingernails, the value of our own experiences and the nuances of good interviews.

Somewhere between reading top-notch examples of narratives and the challenge of finding our own stories on the streets of St. Petersburg, I had my aha moment on the single-most important “secret” to enterprise writing.

Good stories aren't created from behind a desk.

I had forgotten that. I had been so focused on churning out copy to keep up with our competitor and breaking news that I stopped leaving my desk and missed out on those opportunities to build a better story.

Fieldwork helps you gather details that bring the story alive, build relationships and spot new avenues and angles you'd otherwise never find.
The seminar was inspiring and electric, and my only wish was that my colleagues could have been there to experience it with me.

There wasn't a boring moment. Every day we learned new techniques for good writing and twice we had the chance to flex our new skills on the streets of St. Petersburg and get critiques from our peers. Our instructors were Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Jacqui Banaszynski and Thomas French, news industry veteran Butch Ward and the institute's vice-president and senior scholar with the reporting, writing & editing faculty, Roy Peter Clark.

Their experiences alone were inspiring, but they also gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how some of their narratives came to life and shared tips on how we can improve our work.

One of my favourite parts of the trip was simply being in the room as 12 incredibly talented journalists. It was a chance for us to learn from each other and share our love (and frustration) for the industry.

While I went into the seminar feeling like small fish as the reporter of a twice-weekly, I left with the realization that as a smaller newspaper we have a lot of creative freedom, time and opportunity to do great enterprise reporting.

I’m now back at the office reenergized and refreshed, with more tools to improve my writing. All the students from that seminar also still keep in touch and share the occasional story, only helping to keep the learning experiencing going.

I have shared with my editor the ideas learned at the Poynter Institute and this fall we are starting a new project inspired by the seminar.

Thank you so much to the Jack Webster Foundation for making this amazing experience possible and for continuing to give B.C. journalists the chance to learn and get inspired.




Dan FumanoDan Fumano
The Province

I've just returned from a tremendous week-long seminar at the Poynter Institute in Florida, which was made possible by the gracious support of the Webster Foundation and the estate of Don Matheson.

At the seminar, I learned new skills I plan to immediately put into use in my work at The Province. The Poynter instructors, which included Pulitzer Prize winners, were engaging and drew from their decades of varied experience in newsrooms around the US and reporting assignments overseas. But I also learned a lot from the other 12 journalists attending the seminar - they were a diverse group, and hailed from a range of news organizations: everything from the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times and NPR to community papers in small-town USA, a state broadcaster in Norway and a national newspaper in Denmark. I learned a lot from all of them.

Within a day of returning to my job at The Province, my colleagues in the newsroom have been asking me about what I've learned at Poynter and expressing an interest to hear more about the specifics when we have time to talk later on. I'm looking forward to sharing some of what I've learned.

In addition to learning new skills, my week at the Poynter Institute has also left me feeling really re-energized about my work. I am very thankful for the opportunity.

Thank you very much for supporting journalism in British Columbia.




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