Maine Workshop Offers Small Setting with Big Messages

By Gratz, Irwin | The Quill, July 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Maine Workshop Offers Small Setting with Big Messages


Gratz, Irwin, The Quill


"In the 23 years I've been in Maine, local journalists have never had access to such a selection of workshops."

The quote was praise from a former Associated Press writer, now a writing coach himself, for SPJ's National Writers Workshop in Portland, Maine, which also drew attendees from New York City, New Hampshire, Vermont, and one intrepid soul from San Jose, Calif. It was the smallest turnout for any of this year's workshops, but it created a rare opportunity for "intimate" gatherings with speakers, some of them experimenters with the journalistic form.

Author Don Snyder told a book-club lunch that bookstores don't know what to do with his "biography," "Of Time and Memory." As people ate lunch, Snyder talked about trying to re-create "scenes" in the life of a mother he never knew (she died 16 days after childbirth) and with no assistance available from his father. Snyder told of how he tracked down and interviewed dozens of other people and how, after he spent enough time with many of them, they would come up with nuggets of useful information about the woman, and the times, they hadn't seen in 50 years.

Jan Schaffer, executive director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, has encouraged the sometimes controversial efforts by news organizations to directly engage the public Schaffer said during the opening session that attendees that journalists should hold citizens accountable for getting involved.

She said surveys show those citizens have quite an appetite for engagement if the news media provide "entry points" of information on where society needs their help and how ordinary people can provide it. And she warned participants to pay attention to "Generation Y," the 6- to 25-- year-olds who make up a demographic group even larger than the Baby-- Boomers. …

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