Turbulent Times at the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism

FRI, APR 3, 2009 (2:54)

The 2009 Narrative Journalism conference, sponsored by Harvard University's Nieman Foundation, was titled Telling True Stories in Turbulent Times. With news bureaus shrinking and newspapers folding, these are hard days for narrative journalists: they need space, time and funding to do their work, all of which are in short supply in today's web-driven media economy.

ThoughtCast spoke with several of the presenters at the conference, including keynote speaker and Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz, award-winning author and journalist Adam Hochschild, and Nieman’s own Joshua Benton.

+ BIO: Adam Hochschild

Adam Hochschild is an American author and journalist. As a college student, he spent a summer working on an anti-government newspaper in South Africa and subsequently worked briefly as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1964. Both were politically pivotal experiences about which he would later write in his book Finding the Trapdoor. He later was part of the movement against the Vietnam War, and, after several years as a daily newspaper reporter, worked as a writer and editor for the leftwing Ramparts magazine. In the mid-1970s, he was one of the co-founders of Mother Jones.

Hochschild's first book was a memoir, Half the Way Home: a Memoir of Father and Son (1986), in which he described the difficult relationship he had with his father. His later books include The Mirror at Midnight: a South African Journey (1990; new edition, 2007), The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin (1994; new edition, 2003), Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels (1997), which collects his personal essays and reportage, and King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998; new edition, 2006), a history of the conquest and colonization of the Congo by Belgium's King Leopold II. His Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, published in 2005, is about the antislavery movement in the British Empire.

+ BIO: Joshua Benton

Joshua Benton is director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. The lab is a collaborative attempt to figure out how quality journalism can survive and thrive in the Internet age.

+ BIO: Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz is a nationally syndicated columnist based at The Plain Dealer newspaper. She won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Schultz was also a 2003 Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature writing.

+ BIO: Amy O'Leary

Amy O'Leary is a News Editor for NYTimes.com and a former public radio producer.

+ BIO: Jenny Attiyeh

My name is Jenny Attiyeh, and I began my career in 1987 in London as a freelance reporter on the arts for the BBC World Service Radio. I remember my first interview for “Meridian”, as the program I worked for was called. It was with Placido Domingo, and I’ve never been so nervous since.

After my work permit ran out, I returned to Los Angeles, my home city, and continued as an arts reporter for KCRW, an NPR station in Santa Monica. While there, I reported and produced an award-winning documentary on Japanese-American internment during World War II. Shortly after, I was accepted to a National Public Radio residency, which brought me to Washington, D.C. and to WBUR, an NPR station in Boston to report stories for NPR’s Performance Today. I later attended the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

After that, I remained in New York City for 9 years, during which time I worked primarily as a reporter on television and radio. I hosted and produced a weekly arts and culture segment for WNYC TV, a PBS station, until it went out of business (thanks to then Mayor Giuliani, who sold the station). Before the lights went out, I managed to produce a mini-documentary on the making of a Philip Glass opera, “Les Enfants Terribles.”

I worked next as a correspondent for a nationally televised PBS program called “Freedom Speaks” which focused on the media, until it too was taken off the air. (I detect a pattern here…) In between gigs, I also worked as a reporter for WBAI radio, a Pacifica station, and WNYC radio, an NPR station, covering local politics and the arts. I then moved to Maine, where I lived by the harbor in Kittery, and worked as a reporter for New Hampshire Public Television. There, I covered the ‘99/2000 New Hampshire presidential primary season, and interviewed the major presidential candidates. I also participated as a panelist in nationally televised presidential debates, hosted by Peter Jennings and Tim Russert.

Following the conclusion of the New Hampshire primary season, I moved to Boston, where I did freelance writing on academics, the 2004 presidential campaign and the single life, among other subjects. From this base, in early 2005, I launched ThoughtCast.

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