Organisers and participants have declared this year’s narrative journalism conference a resounding success, writes Bate Felix.

Charmeela Bhagowat, conference coordinator, said: “Each year, the conference has given journalist tools to improve their ability to tell the many stories unfolding in our rapidly changing country and continent.”

It has become a critical training ground for journalists as each year it attracts award-winning international journalists and leading South African journalists and media personalities.

The conference has become a forum for exchanging ideas and promoting the use of narrative to improve our ability to report on simple and complex issues, she said.

This year’s conference saw the participation of more than 55 journalists from various newsrooms across the country. During the two day conference and a workshop on the third day, they were able to share experiences and learn new techniques of narrative journalism from various guest speakers.

Guest speakers this year included Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tom French and award-winning journalist Kelly Benham, both from the St Petersburg Times in the United States, Nieman fellow and SABC specialist journalist Kim Cloete, award-winning journalist Elsabe Brits, Mark Gevisser, and veteran radio journalist John Perlman amongst others.

The participants were able to share experiences of using narrative techniques, even on deadline stories. They were also able to explore the use of narrative in contexts like radio, TV, community media and long in-depth narrative projects.

Also, the participants explored reasons why narrative journalism is not effectively used in newsrooms and how this can be changed.

The feedback from participants has been largely positive, marking the conference as one of the most important yearly events on their calendar, said Bhagowat.

“One of my objectives of coming here was to be able to go back and share with my other colleagues in our newsroom,” said Anesca Smith from Die Burger.

“I definitely learnt something I’ll be able to apply in my newsroom and also it was nice being refreshed,” she added.

“I also like the practical advice like organising yourself, your notes, and attention to details, story timelines and sequences and also, listening to Tom French was a privilege, as you can learn more from the way he tells his stories and the examples he gives on approaching every narrative work.”

“I think it was great and refreshing, and I believe more journalist and editors should attend because it would be a fresh breeze in the newsroom,” said Marida Fitzpatrick, feature writer for Beeld.

“It makes so much sense to me because I have learnt so much during the past three days. I believe what we need is more of these writing tools and practical examples of approaching narrative stories, which I wish I had when I was doing news reporting,” she added.

The conference was organised by Paula Fray and Associates, in association with the Nieman Foundation and Wits University.