Spring Break in Boston

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Come spring break, most of us journalism students are pretty swamped. We look forward to taking time to recover from the hectic pace of the semester and do some extra reporting for upcoming assignments.

But sometimes, you just can’t say no to a good conference. And the Narrative Arc conference at Boston University was worth the trip.

My friend and colleague, Ricardo, and I knew we wanted to go as soon as our seminar professor, Nancy Day, mentioned the conference in class. Nancy was really supportive, connecting us with her BU colleagues, and the Journalism Department generously paid for our registration and transportation (Thanks, Columbia!).

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Ricardo and I have the narrative bug.

I love a good story just about more than anything else. I can’t argue with the efficiency of straight, newsy style, but it’s not what I enjoy reading, and it’s not what I want to write when I finish school.

Stories make news accessible; they make it riveting and interesting. Not to be crass, but stories sell. And as far as I’m concerned, I love long stories too. So-called long form narrative and even narrative non-fiction books really speak to me.

And in our world of 140-characters-or-less, narrative journalism seems to be speaking to others, too.

I went to the conference unsure of what to suspect. There’s a whole cloud of doom-and-gloom hovering over our chosen professions these days. I live in fear that my job as an editor and writer will be taken over by convincingly clever robots in the not so distant future. My heart sinks when it feels like people would much rather spend their time watching cute kitten videos than things that will actually help run our democracy.

But the Narrative Arc conference was full to the brim of people like me who still believe in the power of good stories with hope in our hearts that we will find ways to be paid fairly to tell them.

The conference opened with an amazing conversation with journalist Roy Peter Clark on the ways we can tell good stories in few words. That’s him in the picture with the ukelele.

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He brought us highlights of brevity from poetry and literature. He even led us through a singing of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” as an example of excellent short storytelling. The message was positive: elements of compelling storytelling can and should fit into a 500-word news story.

Workshops and keynotes addressed everything from multimedia storytelling techniques to writing style to making it as a freelance multimedia journalist sans starvation. And outside the conference, it was great to network and explore Boston.

I’ll definitely have a lot to think about as we move ever onward in our semester. Hopefully, I’ll be better equipped to blend the serious news reporting I’ve perfected at Columbia with the deft storytelling I daydream about.

But for now, I’ll be enjoying the rest of my spring break, and I plan to read, read, read.

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