European journalists travel to SOJC for the 2016 TransAtlantic Storytelling Workshop

Story by Edith Gonzalez, photos by Jing Wong

“Information does not equal understanding,” said SOJC Professor Emerita Lauren Kessler, co-director of the TransAtlantic Storytelling Workshop. “You understand the world you live in by learning stories from the world you live in.”

Kessler, an award-winning narrative journalist, co-hosted the second annual TransAtlantic Storytelling Workshop with James N. Wallace Chair in Journalism Peter Laufer, July 31 through Aug. 12, at the UO School of Journalism and Communication’s George S. Turnbull Portland Center.

Eleven professional journalists traveled from Europe to attend the workshop to learn how to use narrative storytelling in their journalistic writing. It was also an opportunity for the journalists to visit and write about Portland, an aspirational city where the culture is booming and the stories are plentiful.

Narrative journalism is growing in popularity among journalists in Europe. Compared to the traditional “just-the-facts” method of delivering news, narrative storytelling offers more depth and helps support a meaningful story, with the goal of gaining a better sense of understanding subjects’ everyday lives.

“Narrative journalism is nonfiction — that means accurate and factual stories based on careful, thorough and ethical reporting about real people, real place, real issues and real events,” said Kessler. “The stories are presented not as ordered information, but crafted as short stories. It is purposeful, sophisticated storytelling that uses the techniques of literature, like scene setting, character development and conflict resolution.”The European journalists spent their first two days in Portland learning about the city, its successes and the challenges it faces. They gathered inspiration from Pulitzer-prize-winning authors Jack Hart and Mark Zusman, met the First Lady of Portland, and visited The Oregonian and Willamette Week.

Then the work began. Workshop participants wrote stories on a variety of topics, including alcohol abuse in children, monologue plays, Native American healing, D.B. Cooper, cat rappers, a pinball prodigy and homelessness.

The Oregonian published a guest column by workshop participant Marlena Nowotny comparing Portland's homeless epidemic to that in her native Vienna.
The Oregonian published a column by Marlena Nowotny comparing Portland's homeless epidemic to that in her native Vienna.

One journalist, Salomea Krobath, researched her story on a nighttime search for Bigfoot at the Mt. Hood Recreational Forest with three professional Bigfoot hunters. Another participant, Marlena Nowotny (right), wrote a guest column for The Oregonian highlighting the similarities and striking differences between Portland and her native Vienna. Austrian journalist Teresa Hammerl wrote a piece about an endangered species of butterflies in Oregon that she hopes will be published by a local newspaper.

“In my experience, we don’t have as much narrative writing [in Austria], and as freelancers we don’t have as much time to write and focus on a story,” said Hammerl. “So it was pretty new to me to have weeks or months to work on a story, and that’s something great.”

TransAtlantic Storytelling was made possible by FJUM, a Vienna-based nonprofit organization that fosters quality journalism through innovative trainings, as well as the United States Embassy in Vienna and the George S. Turnbull Portland Center at the SOJC.

Edith Gonzalez is a Portland native and an intern at the SOJC in Portland. She attends the SOJC in Eugene as a junior with a focus in advertising.

Jing Wong is a photographer and graduate student in the SOJC's Multimedia Journalism master's program. Born and raised in Southwest China, she does local and worldwide projects from her home base in Portland.