“Read The Orchid Thief. It demonstrates that orchid collectors are a bit nuts,” Melissa Chessher said of the novel set in the Everglades, “and that great magazine stories that rely on quirky characters, great description, and a strong sense of place wait right in your back yard.” In 2016, Chessher, chair of the Magazine Department and Director of Magazines, Newspaper, and Online Journalism at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, was chosen as one of Folio magazine’s Top Women in Media.
Chessher recently presented at a Broward Arts Journalism Alliance (BAJA) workshop with other faculty members from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, and it wasn’t long before attendees began to feel exceptional for being in the audience.
The attendees listened to esteemed speakers in a niche area of journalism at a masters level in a workshop located in their own Broward County backyard. The faculty covered magazine writing and cultural storytelling (Melissa Chessher), column writing (Jim Shahin), reviewing (Eric Grode), and digital storytelling (Corey Takahashi). Revisiting hardcore journalism basics, they reminded us why we are passionate about commas and anecdotes, character-driven graphs, personal, vivid detail, idea banks, and writing with specificity.
New York Times theater critic Eric Grode walked the crowd through perceptions of a ‘good’ review and reasons why critics are important for a developing arts scene. He challenged the audience to think about the difference between synopsis and review and showed why people who disagree with artists and their creations may bring an important layer to the development of craft and character. Grode is also the program director for the Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse.
“[The] Goldring Arts Journalism program at Syracuse is the first arts journalism graduate program in the U.S. at an accredited journalism school,” says Broward Cultural Division Director Earl Bosworth. According to their website, “they pioneered the concept of training journalists for arts news coverage.” Other arts journalism programs are at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and University of Southern California Annenberg, School for Communication and Journalism.
Washington Post columnist Jim Shahin talked passionately about honing your expertise, consistency, rewriting, and voice. He listed some well-known columnists’ voices – sardonic (Maureen Dowd), silly (Dave Barry), overwhelmed (Erma Bombeck).
“Voice and style are important.” he said. “The more expertise you get on a topic, the sooner you will find your voice. It comes from the inside.” He also advised freelancers never to turn down an assignment. “It’s not whether you will take it,” he said, “but when you will take it.”
Chessher, her messages loaded with personal experiences and anecdotes, reminded the audience why writers are a special breed. Grode challenged the group to operate outside comfort zones and keep, not only like-minded peers, but a few dissonant perspectives for friction and fiction.
There is more to come with a “Call to Writers” in April to apply to become part of Broward Arts Journalism Alliance. Visit www.broward.org/arts for more information on this program.