SATURDAY, October 29



8:30 – 9:30                  Registration and Coffee
North Gate Hall ~ UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism


9:30 – 10:45         Welcome & Opening Session


Here at The New Yorker. John Bennet originally joined The New Yorker as a copy editor. In 1980, he became a senior editor. Today, he oversees stories by Lauren Collins, William Finnegan, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Ben McGrath, among others. What has he seen change? What has he seen stay the same? What is the greatest misconception among writers of the magazine? And what, exactly, is a “cosmic graf”? We will look at one story together to shape our discussion of narrative. John Bennet in conversation with Constance Hale. ROOM: 105


10:45 – 11:00        Break


11:00 – 12:15          Sessions     

The Longform Feature: Is narrative always the answer? Writers and editors from the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco, Smithsonian, and VQR debate notions of The Big Story and discuss when they choose to go in a narrative direction and when they find other forms to deliver news, help readers, and cover events that might be fraught and might be just frothy. Thomas Curwen, Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, Jamilah King, Paul Reyes, Jon Steinberg, moderated by Jacqui Banaszynski. ROOM: 105

Beyond the Page: Exploring the edges of nonfiction. What forms can narrative take when it’s freed from daily deadlines, paragraphs, and even the page? Four veteran journalists grapple with tough subjects in works that blend still images, voice, poetry, prose, and even virtual reality. Their work is as much mixed media as multimedia; we’ll explore it all. McKenzie Funk, Keris Salmon, Lakshmi Sarah, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, moderated by Jessica Carew Kraft. ROOM: Upper Newsroom

You, Yourself and Your Narrator: First-person journalism and the art of the essay. Your point of view is either present for all to read, or its hiding in plain sight. We’ll discuss the many forms of the first person—foil? navigator? character?—and how best to use yourself to propel and animate your story, power your argument or strengthen the impact of your revelations. Vanessa Hua, James Marcus, Amy Wilentz, moderated by Mark Schapiro. ROOM: Lower Newsroom

The Longest Haul: The book. You’ve written the story of the century, and you’re wondering if—stretched and massaged in just the right way—it has the earmarks of a riveting book. You’ve seen gobs of good material fall to the cutting-room floor, yet you’ve got a desire to keep digging for more. But do you have a book? In this panel, we will encourage you to consider book-length projects and to raise the right questions before pitching. We’ll discuss money (should you take time away from your job to write a book?) and career (what’s the trajectory once you finish?). We’ll discuss the requisite writing and reportorial skills, and tell you what help to expect from the industry. Yes, commerce and craft do intersect, and this panel of editors, writers, and agents will tell you where. Sarah Crichton, Adam Hochschild, David Talbot, Ted Weinstein, moderated by Danielle Svetcov. ROOM: Library


12:15 – 1:00        Lunch in the courtyard.

[We will have a special VR presentation by Lakshmi Sarah in the Upper Newsroom during lunch with VR equipment available. Examples of Keris Salmon’s art book series will also be on display in the Upper Newsroom.]


1:00-2:15                  Sessions

Hot Books and Hybrid Authors. Hot Books are “short books on burning subjects.” Hybrid authors mix work for “legacy” publishers with ventures in self-publishing. DecaStories (“longer than long pieces but shorter than short books”) are pushed out by various technologies. How are writers inventing ways to concentrate on important, if offbeat subjects? Where are they finding funding? And what new skills—or collaborators—are required? Three writers talk about how they think entrepreneurially and take creative risks in order to tackle the subjects that make them burn. McKenzie Funk, Constance Hale, David Talbot, moderated by Vanessa Hua. ROOM: B-1

Whose History Gets Told? Deciding whose story to tell is one of the agonizing choices a narrative nonfiction writer must make, fraught with ethical and practical minefields. How do we upend the maxim that “History is written by the victors” and tell the stories of people who may not have left extensive records—or who have not been on the winning side of history? Adam Hochschild, Keris Salmon, Julia Flynn Siler, moderated by Anna Ghosh. ROOM: Upper Newsroom

Less-traveled paths through the environment. Worried that readers, and editors, have grown weary of stories about the planet, be they about climate change, poisoned tap water, or species extinction? Or perhaps worse, do you suspect that many editors now just want Pollyanna articles about solutions? Four environmental journalists talk about how they interweave hard science and gripping stories—whether centered on people, Bengali tigers, or water molecules. Scientific debate can ratchet up conflict. Data can drive plot. And social justice, political negligence, and money can enrichen the tale. Ruben Martinez, Michelle Nijhuis, Mark Schapiro, Jennifer Sahn, moderated by Susan Moran. ROOM: Lower Newsroom


Writing about Race. Review the news landscape over the past year and pick out the gnawing domestic issues. One of them, surely, is race, whether in cop stories, social justice, or presidential politics. Daily stories have given us a litany of police killings, The New Yorker profiled the leaders of Black Lives Matter, and polls reflect the coverage of Donald Trump’s statements about Mexicans and Muslims. But how do we, as narrative journalists, step away from daily news and discern the contours of the larger, epic story? How do we navigate shifting currents and the winds of political correctness without losing our way? Jamilah King, Jon Steinberg, Alex Tizon, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, moderated by Tyche Hendricks. ROOM: Library


2:15 – 2:30                 Break


2:30 – 3:45                  Workshops on Craft

From Idea to Optioned: Crafting Cinematic Narratives. We are in a golden age of true stories in film – from miniseries to documentaries to features. How do you find, structure, and write cinematic stories, then navigate the process once your piece receives interest? Mark Robinson, editor-in-chief of Epic Magazine, which has a first look deal with Fox Pictures, will provide advice from an editor’s perspective. Chris Ballard, who has had five magazine stories and one book optioned, offers a writer’s view. Together, they’ll provide guidance on developing promising ideas, road-testing the ones you have, and harnessing your storytelling chops for cinematic impact. They will also help prepare you for a process that can be as confusing as it is exciting.  ROOM: B-1

The Art of the Interview, with Jacqui Banaszynski. Many stories falter before a writer ever sits down at the keyboard. They suffer from the question not asked, the detail not gathered, the paradox not noticed. Interviewing and observation are essential tools in the storyteller’s kit. They can transform pro forma Q&A into a vibrant partnership that allows for scene setting, character development, and more meaning. How do we create relationships with sources that are ethical and inventive? How do we engage the senses to capture time and place” How do we shape questions that open the door to deeper understanding and turn our subjects into storytellers? ROOM: Upper Newsroom

Narrative reconstruction, with Barry Siegel and Adam Hochschild. Not all stories allow you to do immersion reporting, or be a fly-on-the-wall witness to events. The reporting for reconstructions often involves both interviewing and archival research.  The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list is usually full of reconstructed narratives. Take The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, or The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway. One classic is The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, another is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. And then, of course, there is Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild. Barry Siegel traces the arc of reconstructing stories, so that you can be excited about playing archaeologist, rather than intimidated. Adam Hochschild drops in with his perspective. ROOM: Lower Newsroom

The 10-year story, with Alex. Tizon. Alex Tizon talks about how a routine news item grew into a reporting job that lasted a decade, and produced a powerful tale of a vanished son, a searching mother, and a series of accidents that led to a shocking discovery. Taking his recent Atlantic story, In the Land of Missing Persons, as a starting point, he describes what it takes to track an idea over time, and form a narrative—with multiple layers and numerous characters—that hums to the end. Tizon tells writers how to be alert to the 10-year stories all around them, some of which they may have—consciously or not—already started. ROOM: Greenhouse

Renegades, Underdogs, Madmen: The Magazine Profile, with Jenn Kahn. At their best, profiles can become a kind of detective story, with challenges that vary depending on whether the subject is a celebrity (movie star, athlete, politician) or a “regular” person. Because profiles don’t always have an obvious plot, though, they often require a different strategy in order to build interest and sustain momentum. Jenn Kahn takes a close look at how to craft a magazine-caliber profile, starting with the critical choice of whom to write about. We’ll also discuss the various types of profiles—the savant story, the underdog-hero tale, the psychological profile—and what drives them. ROOM: Library


3:45 – 4:00     Break


4:00 – 5:15                  Sessions with Editors, Agents, and Coaches

Please note: Each session is limited to those attendees pre-registered for them, except for the session with agents and editors, which is open to all. Volunteers at each room will help direct you to your pre-assigned session.

The Editor Is IN. (Six separate sessions.) We’ve asked editors to reveal the one thing that writers often don’t understand about their publications and to respond to questions. These are not pitch sessions, but rather conversations about how editors think about stories in their own publications

  • John Bennet                   B-1
  • James Marcus                Upper Newsroom
  • Mark Robinson               Lower Newsroom
  • Paul Reyes                      B-30
  • Jennifer Sahn                  The Greenhouse

The book expert Is IN. (One combined session.) Three literary agents and a book editor use your anonymous query letters or book descriptions as a starting point for discussion on how to pique their interest. They also share tips on writing a book proposal that hits all the right notes, making it irresistible. Sarah Crichton, Anna Ghosh, Danielle Svetcov, Ted Weinstein. ROOM: Library

The page doctor is IN. (Two separate sessions.)

Mark Kramer, longtime conference guru and narrative coach, discusses your essays, drafts, book proposals, and sample chapters. ROOM: Dean’s Den

Barry Siegel, narrative writer and director of UC Irvine’s Literary Journalism Program, discusses your essays, drafts, book proposals, and sample chapters. ROOM: Student Lounge


5:30 – 6:30                  Closing session

Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Girls and Sex. In her latest book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, Peggy Orenstein examines a new generation gap that has emerged between today’s teenagers and their mothers when it comes to sexuality. Her in-depth reporting included over 70 girls and multiple parents and experts. With chapters like “Matilda Oh Is Not an Object— Except When She Wants to Be,” Orenstein focuses a searching and compassionate feminist gaze on issues many parents and teachers have averted their eyes from. Peggy Orenstein, in conversation with Deirdre English. ROOM: 105


6:30 – 7:30        Reception in the courtyard

Raise a glass. Join us for a special tasting featuring food and beverages from the Sonoma and Napa wine country, courtesy of Conn Creek winery and chef and food writer Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen. We will chat, chew the fat, and digest the day.




SUNDAY, October 30


9 a.m. to 11 a.m.          Master Classes (these require pre-registration)

The Bricks-and-Mortar Process of Storybuilding. You’ve pitched your story, gotten your editor’s approval, and, in your mind, you can see the final draft: the scale, the scope and the importance of your work. But how do you get there? An ambitious and compelling narrative takes not only great reporting skills but also serious organizational chops. In this workshop, Thomas Curwen discusses how to keep track of your interviews and most important, how to connect the necessary arguments, themes and scenes that will make your story come alive. It’s the most challenging and arduous part of a writer’s job description, but if done well, it will provide a foundation where the real writing and the artistry begin. ROOM: B-1

Crash Course in Multimedia Storytelling. Together, Richard Koci Hernandez and Jeremy Rue have written the book—literally—on multimedia storytelling. (Their volume is titled The Principles of Multimedia Journalism and it analyzes examples of innovative stories that leverage technology in unexpected ways to create entirely new experiences online that both engage and inform. The two also teach New Media at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in addition to producing Emmy-award winning multimedia stories. They pack this expertise into two rich hours that will change the way you think of online journalism. ROOM: Upper Newsroom

Pitching the Magazine Story. Jennie Rothenberg Gritz brings to bear her experience at The Atlantic and Smithsonian as she gives you secrets of how to frame a pitch she would find irresistible. She’ll walk you through some common errors: mistaking the “worthy” for the riveting, lacking the material to justify a full feature, and misjudging the tone or approach these two magazines are after. Jennie currently works in print, but she spent many years at and will offer additional strategies for pitching online stories, too. ROOM: Lower Newsroom

Making It Count: The reported memoir. Amy Wilentz has written three highly acclaimed reported memoirs (The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award). In addition to her own writing, she teaches memoir and travel journalism as a literary forms in the Literary Journalism program at UC Irvine. She shares insights on the value of memoir writing beyond personal venting and self-discovery.  ROOM: Library