Medill Writing Workshop Focuses on Ethics, Features Walt Harrington

In the wake of a series of newspaper scandals this year, the 7th annual AAN/Medill Alternative Journalism Writing Workshop examines ethical minefields such as “fixing” quotes, attributions, proper crediting, the dangers of cut-and-paste reporting, fact-checking and libel.

AAN editors and writers will join faculty of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and others Sept. 12-14 to parse the process of creating the narrative journalism that is a hallmark of alternative newsweeklies, led by the inimitable David Carr of The New York Times, who will moderate the entire weekend’s program.

Walt Harrington, a master of narrative non-fiction and author of “Intimate Journalism: The Art and Craft of Reporting Everyday Life,” kicks off the workshop with a keynote talk on “Keeping the ‘Non’ in Non-Fiction Writing.” In a second session on Saturday, Harrington describes how in-depth journalism on ordinary people produces extraordinary insights in ” Intimate Journalism: The Art & Craft of Reporting Everyday Life.”

Carr moderates a three-hour Saturday morning program on ethical quagmires with panelists that include Harrington, as well as Medill faculty members Charles Whitaker, Patti Wolter, and Abe Peck, and AAN’s Michael Lenehan, executive editor of the Chicago Reader.

“Over my many years at AAN, I’ve found the Medill weekend to be the most consistently useful editorial programming we offer, inspirational for both old (and aging rapidly, in my case) editors and young writers alike,” says Patty Calhoun, editor of Westword and chair of the AAN Editorial Committee. “I’m particularly excited about this year’s incarnation, which features writer/professor Walt Harrington. Walt was one of the leaders of a narrative journalism seminar for editors at the Nieman Foundation this spring. … Walt offered advice both practical and inspirational for any writer/editor at an alternative newspaper.”

On Friday evening, workshop faculty and attendees meet with the editors of RedEye and Red Streak, two new weekday tabloids published by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, respectively. The informal discussion, moderated by Carr and including Mike Smith, managing director of Northwestern’s Media Management Center, will focus on the dailies’ and alt-weeklies’ differing approaches to snagging the attention of young readers and the dollars of advertisers who want to reach that demographic.

Other sessions at the workshop include a Friday afternoon offering by Calhoun and David Holthouse of Westword on “Writing with an Edge: It’s More Than Not Deleting the Bleeps,” and concurrent sessions Saturday afternoon on document searches and arts reporting.

In what is on its way to becoming a Medill Workshop tradition, the John Bartlow Martin awards for public interest magazine journalism will be presented at the Saturday night dinner. This year’s winner is Miami New Times for its ambitious series on poverty, “We’re No. 1.” Jim Mullin, editor of Miami New Times, and Medill’s Peck will discuss the award-winning series on Saturday afternoon, looking at how the staff discovered the many sharp vignettes of poverty in the nation’s poorest city and crafted them into a riveting composite portrait.

The series was “a new way of looking at Miami, involving several edit staffers juggling project stories with their regular workload, as opposed to one writer taking a year on a project, which is beyond anything most AAN papers can contemplate,” Calhoun says.

Workshop sessions are scheduled from 1:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12 through noon Sunday, Sept. 14. This year the Sunday session is optional and will feature breakfast and critique sessions for writers with AAN editors. Critiques will also be offered during Saturday’s two-hour lunch break.

Early registration tuition for the workshop is $150 for AAN members and $200 for non- members. After Aug. 22 the tuition is $175 for members and $225 for non-members. Tuition includes dinner Friday night, lunch and dinner Saturday, and Sunday breakfast.

Registration materials and the complete program schedule can be downloaded by clicking here . For more information contact Communications Director Lyda Phillips at or (202) 822-1955.