Four days into this summer’s Transatlantic Storytelling workshop hosted by the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, a visiting corps of professional Austrian journalists pitched story ideas to two titans in the business: Mark Zusman, MA ’78, editor and publisher of Willamette Week, and Jack Hart, a renowned writing coach and former managing editor of The Oregonian.
It was a daunting task, but the pitches didn’t disappoint. There was a story about the genesis of Portland’s Rose Garden during World War II, another about Portland’s indie artists struggling against the push of gentrification, and one about the turbulent recovery and relapse of Dave’s Killer Bread co-founder Dave Dahl.
Tanja Malle, a journalist for Austria’s largest public broadcasting network, admits she was relieved after getting positive feedback on her story pitch about an FBI agent’s prosecution of Bosnian war criminals living in the U.S. “Mark and Jack liked the idea,” she says. “That was a small triumph.”
Building on the SOJC’s European connection, the inaugural Transatlantic Storytelling workshop provided a crash course in narrative storytelling to some of Austria’s most promising young journalists. After reviewing more than 25 compelling applications, SOJC professors Lauren Kessler and Peter Laufer selected ten journalists to participate in the two-week immersion program.
During the workshop’s morning sessions, participants learned about character development, story arc, scene setting, and other hallmarks of narrative journalism from Kessler and Laufer—both award-winning authors—as well as a distinguished line-up of guest lecturers. In the afternoons, the Austrian journalists put those lessons to work, fanning out across the city to develop their stories from promising ideas to carefully crafted narratives.
“We pushed them to break out of the traditional ‘news feature’ format that they’re so used to,” Kessler says. “We worked with them on constructing narratives, conceptualizing stories, and reporting in new ways.”
Backed by generous funding from the program’s cohost, the Austrian nonprofit FJUM, the U.S. embassy in Vienna and other sponsors, the program was able to cover travel expenses for the corps of Austrian journalists. Some participants also received additional grants for housing from their news organizations, which plan to publish the stories upon completion.
Kessler says the 2016 workshop is already in the works with funding again secured from FJUM and the U.S. embassy. She hopes the momentum built this summer will help the program become even more transatlantic in the future.
“We fully intend to expand,” Kessler says. “Eventually, we’d like to build connections across all of Europe.”
Story by Ben DeJarnette ’15