Want to learn how to write and edit like a pro? We have a summit for you

Jacqui Banaszynski and Tom Huang are pros.

Huang spent 20 years as a beat and enterprise reporter in metro newsrooms and now is assistant managing editor for features and community engagement at The Dallas Morning News.

Banaszynski won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing and was a newspaper reporter and editor for more than 30 years, most recently as Associate Managing Editor of The Seattle Times.

Both will be at Poynter in May to run Poynter's summit on reporting and editing, a week of intensive training on crucial journalism skills: watchdog reporting, interviewing, coaching and project management. The summit, which will run from May 7 through 12 in St. Petersburg, Florida, will also give participants a personal action plan to put into place what they learned during the week.

Who's the summit for, how can participants pay for it and what's it really like? For more, we caught up with Huang and Banaszynski, who each shared some behind-the-scenes details about the program.

Who should come to the summit?

Huang: The summit has two tracks: One for reporting and one for editing. The reporters will be in one homeroom, getting special attention from Jacqui B., and the editors will be in another homeroom, getting special attention from me. We'll also have shared plenary sessions, where everyone is in the same room, because we've learned that editors and reporters often have the same learning needs. As a veteran journalist who has spent many years as a reporter, and then as an editor, I can vouch for the fact that reporters and editors need a lot of similar skills.

Banaszynski: Any reporter or editor, of any experience level or from any sized newsroom, will benefit from both the techniques and strategies we discuss, and from building a network of other working journalists.

What will they learn?

Huang: Reporters will learn how to brainstorm ideas, focus their stories and do the kind of immersion reporting that's required to produce compelling stories. Editors will learn how to help their teams generate strong ideas, coach their writers to produce stronger stories, and manage large projects. Both groups will get individual coaching from Poynter faculty. Everyone will also be asked to design a personal action plan — a set of goals they will bring back to their newsrooms or organizations.

Banaszynski: The summit offers three primary elements:

  • Concrete tools to improve your craft. You’ll learn how to find better sources, and develop ethical effective relationships with them; how to identify fresh story ideas from routine or confusing events; how to mine data for stories and interview in sensitive or difficult situations; how to choose the best story structures on deadline. Editors will get strategies for coaching individual reporters, and revising and tightening copy.
  • Inspiration and support to find purpose and joy in your work in these challenging times.
  • A community of other reporters and editors to lean on in the future.

This is not cheap, and it's not fast. Why is it worth the commitment?

Huang: Producing quality, in-depth journalism is not cheap or fast, and neither is building the skills to produce it. This kind of Poynter training includes a lot of interactive sessions, as well as coaching from Poynter faculty. Journalists who have attended the summit have come away with stronger reporting and editing skills and a sharper focus and stronger resolve for doing high-impact journalism.

Banaszynski: As the news cycle spins faster and faster, and newsrooms face chaos and contraction, it is essential for committed journalists to invest in themselves and to help each other. We can no longer count on a lot of mentoring or on-the-job training in our newsrooms, so finding places to tap expertise and to improve skills will position you to survive and thrive.

What are your favorite memories from previous summits?

Huang: One of my favorite memories is getting to watch Jacqui B. teach sessions on brainstorming story ideas, developing effective interviews, and structuring stories with narrative techniques. Jacqui is incredibly inspirational — she pushes everyone to get better at the craft because she has high standards. And she's at the top of her game when it comes to teaching.

Banaszynski: My best moments tend to come after summits or workshops when a reporter or editor sends a note about a success they had, and tracks it back to some tool they carried away from Poynter.

How might this summit change people's careers?

Huang: I've found that the summit not only helps reporters and editors build their journalistic skills; it has re-energized them and inspired them to return to their newsrooms to do better work.

Banaszynski: There is an obvious networking aspect, but more important is that immersion workshops like this provide a sense of mastery in the craft and ethics of journalism, which elevates the quality of the work you do each do. That connects to a renewed sense of purpose in the value of the work, and of possibilities going forward — whether in your existing newsroom or in another situation.

Are there scholarships available? Can I get my company to pay? How have other people paid for this summit on a tight budget?

Huang: Applicants should make a pitch to their companies to support their travel and tuition — it's worth the investment. If an applicant is a member of a journalism organization like AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA and NLGJA, it's worth asking the association whether they provide any fellowships or scholarships.

Group rates are available as well. Email seminars@poynter.org for more information.

This is a week away from work. What's the benefit for my company?

Huang: The immediate benefit to your company is that you'll come back not only as a more effective writer or editor, but also someone who brainstorms and develops stronger ideas and one who collaborates more effectively across teams. But it's also a long game — I expect that over the next few years, the graduates will become strong leaders in their organizations, both as writers and as editors.

Banaszynski: Smart newsroom leaders understand the value of high-end training, both as a way to grow the skills of younger staff and to show a commitment to their valuable veterans. They also know that one person who brings strong skills and an enthusiastic attitude to a newsroom can spark that in others. This summit is the kind of immersion experience that can transform reporters and editors into those sparks that help elevate the entire newsroom.

Applications for the Poynter Summit on Reporting and Editing will be accepted until April 3. Register here.

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    Shanna DiNobile

    Shanna DiNobile is the Online Community Manager at the Poynter Institute. Shanna facilitates rich conversation by creating and cultivating a community of lifelong learners within Poynter’s audience of journalists, bloggers, communications professionals, and social media users.

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