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Narrative Journalism? Narrative NonFiction? What’s in a name? According to Jack Shuler, apparently, there’s a lot. As of last week, Shuler, along with the faculty committee for the concentration, decided to officially change the name from Narrative Nonfiction Writing to Narrative Journalism. To answer the question of why, the reasoning behind creating the concentration needs to be known, as well as recent developments from alumni.

Recent donations, including a grant of $700,000 from the Mellon Foundation, have allowed more opportunities for the program to refine and expand. Such an opportunity includes hiring a resident Narrative Journalist.

Dr. Margot Singer and Shuler proposed this concentration to teach the specific writing skills required in journalism. This distinct style or “narrative” found in journalistic writing wasn’t being taught or required for most pre-existing writing courses.

“Emerging in the media right now is a need for this type of writing” says Dr. Singer. “It’s crafting stories for a general audience. [This] is what good journalists do.”

Before the Narrative Journalism concentration was available to students, experience with writing in this style could only be found through writing for a publication like The Denisonian or an internship that required this specific style of writing. These are good outlets for practice, but Singer and Shuler wanted narrative writing to be taught in a classroom.  

The faculty committee, comprised of professors from an array of disciplines from studio art to geosciences, held two main reasons that inspired the name change. The first being accuracy and the second being confusion surrounding the term “Narrative Nonfiction.”

In actuality, “Narrative Nonfiction Writing” is a slightly broader compilation of genres than what is really included in the teachings of the concentration, which is why they pointed to accuracy as one of the reasons for change.

Schuler describes Narrative Journalism as “a term used to describe rigorously fact-based, researched and reported storytelling. Good Narrative Journalism will include the kinds of techniques often necessary when writing a novel: scene-building, character development and organization.”

“And even though Tom Wolfe claimed that this kind of journalism was New in the 1960s and early 70s, it has a much longer history. Contemporary manifestations of Narrative Journalism focus on accuracy in reporting and attention to detail—and sometimes a recognition of POV,” he said.

Current concentrators are majoring in everything from anthropology/sociology, classics, communication, English, environmental studies, international studies, mathematics, music, political science, and psychology.

“The goal is to help these students become more intentional in learning the techniques of good storytelling that is deeply researched and connecting their own academic studies with the world of journalism. While we do address many of the key aspects of a journalism major, like ethics and media structures, we can’t do it all, and actually that’s what makes our liberal arts approach unique,” said Shuler.

The future of the concentration appears to be promising, as more and more students are participating and graduating with the concentration. From one graduate last year to nearly 30 students currently signed up for the concentration, Narrative Journalism is just getting under way.

Sophia Bellone

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