Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Upcoming NewsU webinar: Writing successful profiles

Those of you who know me well probably know that I look at Jan Winburn, the presenter in the next NewsU writing webinar (2 p.m. Sept. 29 in the newsroom conference room), as one of the all-time great editors. What you might not know is that Jan was, in part, the inspiration behind the YDR's "Year of Storytelling" in 2007, which gave life to this blog, among many other efforts in our newsroom.

In late 2006, I went to an Investigative Editors & Reporters seminar in Atlanta. I remembered that Jan,  formerly of the Baltimore Sun, was then at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wouldn't it be awesome to talk writing with Jan Winburn? I thought. So I e-mailed her and asked if she had any time. Sure, she responded. And we set up lunch.

At lunch we talked about a lot of stuff: narrative, character, ethics, the post-Katrina series "Through Hell and High Water" about two New Orleans hospitals in the days after the storm. Needless to say, it was a blast.

I didn't have a notebook with me, but after lunch, I got in my car and wrote down things we talked about or tips that I remembered. Among them:

  • character (development) is most important in narrative. people disliked a woman dying of cancer in one story, Jan said, and so the series did not go over well.
  • what she reads -- New Yorker, New York Times (for economical storytelling), writers on their craft
  • Jan said she prefers immersion narratives over reconstructive, but advised that in reconstructive narratives she would italicize quotes the way the person said they remembered them.
  • she wanted to broaden the definition of investigative reporting to be more inclusive -- she was/is shooting for investigative narrative
  • and, when I asked her how to keep up the momentum, she said, "Writers just want to succeed."

I don't know if I was specifically looking for a way to kick-start some writing energy in the newsroom (and in myself). But on the drive back from Atlanta, I started thinking about what we could do to really focus on narrative writing.

By the time I returned to the office, I had some ideas. I went to lunch with Buffy and bounced them off her, and she was all for it. We got started planning and pitched the idea around the newsroom. In January, we brought in Lon Wagner and Diane Tennant from the Virginian-Pilot, and that kicked off the "Year of Storytelling."