Roy Peter Clark – Vice President of Poynter Institute

by Aleksandra Dukovska in St.Petersburg, Florida


We Need Storytellers To Tell What Happen

What is the role of the Poynter Institute in the education of professional journalists?

Well, I’ve been here at Poynter since 1979, initially was created in 1975, so except for the first four years, when nothing much was happening and before mister Poynter passed away in 1979 now one know exactly what the institute role is going to be. And took a while to plan it.

I would say that the simplest answer to your question is that Poynter exists to support professional journalists and aspiring journalists in their work informing citizens on the public interest. Our job is to help journalists help the people they serve.

How do you adopt courses and approach to educate journalists with all the changes that are happening in the media?

When I arrived in Florida more than 30 years ago, I had never seen a color photograph in a newspaper. There has always been changes and technological changes that influenced the readership, circulation – the definition of news. I think we sometimes make the mistake of thinking that standard journalism is existed the way is existed through 200-300 years.

And this is not true. It has been tremendous changes over time. I agree with you we are in a particularly – this is not only the tropical storm- this is earthquake. In an earthquake sometimes the foundation of the house gets damage too. What I would say is Poynter job to help journalist to figure out what values and what practices are enduring and last over long period of time and continue to be important.

Is ethics still important, may you have different technology but our ethical practices are still important is excellence in language use, the visual is still important, the leadership – so the specific technologies that we might teach – they change so quickly that might even worth teaching them.

We are figuring out way how to preserve lasting values and practices, but also make people aware of some new opportunities, maybe to tell their stories to the wider audience, maybe to tell their stories more powerfully using more than one medium. I think all those things are possible.

What are the tools that you teach here to tell the stories powerfully at the Poynter and could be of benefit of other journalist?

One of the things that journalist need, that all people need if they want to improve the quality of their writing – they need specific strategies and tools. I have spent a lot of my career looking at the work of great journalists and figuring out how they do it, what are the tools they use.

If I just go to teach soccer or football I would need to look at and slow down on the video and watch them and figure out their techniques, strategies and learn and pass those to younger students who want to teach.

I have been fortunate enough to capture some of those ideas and strategies in these books: writing tools, the glamour of grammar, and this one that is coming in September: help for writers. The point is that the writers need encouragement, but in addition to encouragement they need specific methods and strategies that they can use.  That’s what we do.

This is the German translation of Writing tools and this the Danish translation of writing tools. So, I was kind a surprise that some of the methods I was talking about in English language would be transferable in other languages in other cultures, but the evidence sujest  that that is.

Can you share some of the tools, some of the writing tools?

They are all available on Poynter Web site. Anybody can have them without having the pay for the book. I would say…

What is the most important – What is the difference in writing articles in Europe and the USA?

I believe there is more storytelling in American journalism – when we go to another countries and cultures, very often the standards in other countries tend to be more limited in terms of freedoms that the writer has to frame the story in a particular way.

One of the most important distinctions is made in this entire staff is that you have two different kinds of journalistic work. On one side you have reports – we call people reporters and so the purpose of the report is to go out and to get information, to bring the back and to figure out what the most important piece of information they have.

You want to be interesting if possible and even better if it is interesting and important. If it is important you have the responsibility to try to make it interesting, because a lot of things are important like the tax code are not necessarily interesting in terms of description of it.

When I go to the movies – that is, when the lights go down and the screen is black, and I am dreaming, the vision comes up and the story begins. I am not going to see that I order to get information. What I am trying to do is to have an experience. That’s what the stories do.

Stories are form of alternate experience. So for example, no one knows – except the people who are there, no one knows all the details how Osama bin Laden was killed. But, I could give you the report telling you that was people that this helicopter was damaged, I can make a list of pieces of information, but what would be completely different is if we could be there as it was happening. We can be there when is happening most of the time.

We need storytellers to tell us what happen, either they were eye witnesses or because they done the kind of reporting which allows them to get the facts, the scenes, the dialogue, that bring the story to life, so when I pick up the novel – he is a well known American novelist – I am siding right here and the date is the 12 of May 2011 at St. Petersburg, Florida being interviewed and now I will open this book and I am going to begin to read and I am no longer at St. Petersburg – I am not longer in 2011 – I am back in New York  City  in a  baseball stadium in year 1951 because that’s were history is set. People say that is fiction and that is fiction and what is great about non – fiction stories is that has both of the sense of real life, that fiction can have but it appears to the strict standards of accuracy and storytelling.


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