Witness: Tools in Reporting & Journalistic Prose

Facilitator: David Ball
Date: June 30th – July 18th 2014
Number of Workshops: 4 (including day-long retreat)
Registration fee: $100.00 – $200.00

This Intensive will bring together 12 community writers to explore and engage with the interplay between independent reporting, creative nonfiction and literary style — the craft often referred to as “literary journalism” or “journalistic prose.”

But journalism is more than a skillset or even simply a craft. Some of us see it as a calling (or compulsion) in a society facing an unprecedented concentration of media, injustices, ecological crises, secrecy and violence.

The journalist carries an ethical responsibility to actively “bear witness” to these realities; creative nonfiction offers one toolkit to engage readers, and hopefully catalyze some level of transformation, accountability or understanding.

This Intensive will offer a glimpse into the literary journalism craft, engage with a few of its authors and ethical questions, and explore a sampling of its creative tools and techniques — in the hope of sparking passion for beautiful, impactful nonfiction stories.

Through this intensive participants will:

  • Get hands-on experience and skills in some of the tools, techniques and ideas of creative nonfiction it can be used in journalism — including careful attention to dialogue, ambiance and environment, and how a writer can use devices traditionally associated with fiction such as metaphor, scene-setting and narrative — to tell important factual.

  • Read a sampling of these tools from writers who have used them powerfully and effectively in their nonfiction.

  • Be encouraged to test out and experiment with various literary journalism devices, and share their experiments with the group.

  • Share our literary journalism experiments with a broader community, and hopefully spark future writing projects.


This Intensive will consist of:

  • 3, 3-hour, weekly evening workshops, consisting of short readings from masters in the creative nonfiction field; group discussion of some of the techniques and devices used and available in literary journalism; a hands-on writing component to experiment with the various tools discussed; and conversations about ethics and responsibilities of the writer.

  • 1, day-long weekend workshop in which participants will share their at-home writings with the group and discuss

  • Optional one-on-one meeting with the facilitator, if requested.

  • Participants will be invited to share new work generated through the Intensive at the 2014 Writing Institute Community Reading on July 18th 2014


Themes we will explore:

  • The role and importance of journalism and investigations in today’s world and society, with attention to social and political contexts.

  • The range of journalism genres that can effectively employ literary devices, including investigative and watchdog reporting, community journalism, and political nonfiction essays.

  • Ethics and responsibilities of the writer, including debates around “objectivity” and accuracy in reporting, balance and fairness, privilege, and respecting sources’ stories and experiences.

  • Journalism as story-telling, and the centrality of narratives, power, and relationships in framing one’s work.

Writers whose work we may explore:
Annie Dillard, Arundhati Roy, Jeremy Scahill, Joan Didion, Lee Maracle, Thomas King.

Participants will leave the Intensive with:

  • An introduction to the basic principles of community and investigative journalism

  • Hands-on experience of testing a variety of practical writing tools and skills that can be used in journalistic prose

  • One short piece of writing that has been through a collective workshop process

  • Ideas for potential publications to pitch creative nonfiction to.

Guiding Philosophy:

Literary journalism is a branch of creative nonfiction which weaves narrative styles more traditionally associated with fiction into writing on nonfiction and investigative topics.

The intensive title “Witness” reflects that the writer is not a neutral observer of events in the world, but is transformed by their experiences and called to bear witness. It reminds us that all nonfiction, whether investigative reporting, long-form essays, or community reporting, is story-telling and carries responsibilities of bearing witness to struggles of people, places and power.

Journalism — in particular its investigative or watchdog branches — is a writing and research practice aimed at uncovering truths, exposing abuses and injustices, holding power accountable, and (hopefully) sparking transformation. This role remains highly contested and controversial in the corporate news industry to this day, but at one time was widely accepted and understood, and outside North America still is.

As Arundhati Roy writes: “The writer is the midwife of understanding. It’s very important for me to tell politics like a story, to make it real, to draw a link between … the very smallest things to the very biggest.”