I’ve just returned from the annual Nieman Narrative Journalism Conference at Harvard where the mood was a mix of anxiety and inspiration. The anxiety came from the many staffers who had recently lost jobs or were preparing for that possibility. The inspiration came from the heady conversations about craft and narrative that typically characterize this gathering of master storytellers and those aspiring to that title.
Since this was a conference where almost all the attendees and speakers were journalists, and where people were live blogging and tweeting, there are plenty of vivid recaps of the event. So I’ll spare you the full-blown summary.
I spoke on a few panels (“Finding Opportunities in Turbulent Times,” “Why I Blog,” and “Freeing Your Inner Entrepreneur”), which meant that I missed a lot. Recordings are available for the full conference, so I might be buying those.
A few reactions:
- One recording worth buying would be Connie Hale’s interview with Jon Lee Anderson, a rollicking conversation with a vibrant storyteller and adventurer. The only thing missing was an explanation of how Anderson acquired a wife and three children while traversing the globe chasing down stories (and how a woman might have the equivalent career if she wanted to have a family life.)
- Josh Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab gave what has come to be a predictably hopeful and visionary look at journalism’s future. (UPDATE: Here is the link for Benton’s talk from last year’s conference.)
- Connie Hale’s talk, “Sin & Syntax: Seven Secrets to Making Your Prose Wicked Good,” lived up to its title. I’ll be recommending her book to anyone who writes — from those who mostly write in email or IM to those who get paid to string sentences together in a coherent and artful way.
- I appeared on a panel with Mara Schiavocampo, a one-woman media crew who made the multimedia reports she creates sound like something any journalist willing to take a little extra time could master. On that same panel, Dennis Palumbo, a Hollywood screenwriter-turned-shrink, tried to ease the anxiety level in the room with advice like “remember that what’s going on in your head is not necessarily reality.” I’m now reading his book “Writing From the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within.”
- I spoke on a panel about blogging with Sewell Chan (known for the enormity of his journalistic output at The New York Times and his leadership of the Times’ City Room blog) and Jeff Chang, who writes about hip-hop and gave some valuable insights on blogger burnout.
- In a photography workshop led by Richard Koci Hernandez and Kael Alford, I learned that some newspapers have published photos taken on an iPhone (and that there are applications like Camera Bug you can download to slightly improve the quality of that awful camera.) During that session, I also scribbled into my notebook lots of tools for checking out later: Simple Viewer (for viewing images online), Canon G10 camera, Edirol audio recorders (worth the extra money), and Soundslides (audio slideshow tool touted as “ridiculously easy to use”).
One closing thought — I can see why Twittering at a conference is a smart move for conference organizers and a good way to find and connect with other attendees. But it’s also the best way to miss out on what is happening in the room (and to annoy people who aren’t at the event, as I learned from the recent Twitter overload coming out of the SXSW conference). So I eschewed real-time tweeting, and instead used my free moments to mingle with people I wanted to meet, of which there were many. Rarely do a I go to a conference with as a high a ratio of interesting people to duds as I find at Nieman.