Campus & Community

Strong voices speak at Nieman conference”

2 min read
Tom Wolfe delivers the keynote lecture titled ‘Setting, Psychology, and Mommy in Narrative Journalism’ during the 2005 Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism. (Staff photos Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

The defining mark of narrative journalism is the personality of the writer, the voice of the knowing ally – whole, candid, not speaking on behalf of any institution, corporation, government, ideology, chamber of commerce, or travel destination. … The genre’s power is the strength of its voice,” writes Mark Kramer, organizer of the Nieman Narrative Conference.Mark Kramer (left), organizer of the conference, makes some welcoming remarks.At this year’s conference, which took place over the weekend of Dec. 2, there were many strong voices, though not exactly a harmonic chorus. It was more like a friendly gathering of powerful soloists – writers as distinct as Philip Gourevitch, Orville Schell, Tom Wolfe, and Jacqui Banaszynski, writers who speak, as Kramer puts it, with the “voice of the knowing ally … [who] disclose how people and institutions really are.” Not an easy task. New Journalism pioneer Tom Wolfe assured his audience that nonfiction narrative will always be with us, but said he sees the Web as a potentially damaging rival to newspapers, and underscored the need for fully contextual narrative journalism.Gourevitch warned his audience about the dangers of being open-minded, that is, if open-minded means trying to please all the interested parties related to a particular story. It’s not always a question of giving each voice a chance to be heard, he said. Sometimes it’s a matter of discovering, and telling, the true story.