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Uncertain States: Narrative Journalism and Its Limits

General Programming

dateOctober 4, 2019 timeFriday, 1:30pm EDT location Pulitzer Hall (Journalism School), Brown Institute, Columbia University
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated

This symposium will explore the possibilities and constraints of narrative journalism as it is practiced today. Participants will reflect on issues central to this mode of journalism, which are nevertheless rarely scrutinized: choices of tone and structure, selection of themes, front stories, arguments, or central characters, and how to portray situations that don’t lend themselves to tidy conclusions. What's at stake in embracing the murky and indeterminate—the less immediately sympathetic protagonist, the not-so-easily resolved predicament—at a time when the demand for moral and political decisiveness, for clear-cut villains and victims, has grown acute? How to handle issues of translation not simply across languages but across sensibilities and worldviews? What are the implications of long-term, immersive reporting that resists the immediacy of the news cycle? We'll also be addressing the question of intervening—or not—in the lives of those we write about, particularly in the context of suffering or injustice. How, in our work, have we confronted the limits of journalistic "objectivity?” What to make of the entrenched notion that journalism and advocacy are distinct, even incompatible, endeavors? Have there been moments in our reporting when these lines have become blurred, perhaps necessarily or productively so?


1:30 – Welcome

1:45–2:45 - Intervention

Azmat Khan and Ben Taub (moderator, Jazmine Hughes)

3:00–4:15 – Character

Matthew Shaer, Suzy Hansen, and Lizzie Presser (moderator, Rachel Nolan)

4:30-5:30 – Ambivalence

Rachel Aviv, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and Sarah Stillman (moderator, Brian Goldstone)

5:30-6:00 – Closing discussion/Q&A

Sponsors: The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities; School of Journalism

Image credit: by Robin Hammond

This event will be photographed and filmed. By being present, you consent to the SOF/Heyman using such photographs and video for promotional purposes.