What drives you as a journalist? What inspires you? How do you sustain your sense of calling in the face of the everyday stresses of your job, your life?
These are just some of the questions a select group of 12 Bay Area journalists pondered at “Purpose & Passion,” a pilot storytelling retreat organized by Renaissance Journalism on July 12-14 and held at the Marconi Conference Center overlooking Tomales Bay.
This was no business-as-usual gathering. Journalists were given the opportunity to get away from their workaday lives and asked to do a “deep dive” into what truly matters to them—as professionals, as human beings—and to reconnect with their passion for the craft of journalism and storytelling.
“We wanted to provide journalists with something they rarely get in their hectic, deadline-driven lives: the time and space for introspection, reflection and meaningful dialogue,” said Jon Funabiki, executive director of Renaissance Journalism and co-facilitator of the gathering. “Our hope was that folks would come away from this retreat feeling inspired, rejuvenated and better equipped to tackle the tough stories they cover every day, year after year.”
At the all-expenses-paid retreat journalists were introduced to a variety of experiential processes such as facilitated dialogues, guided visualizations and free writes. The group was comprised of an eclectic mix of journalists—from print, radio, multimedia—as well as filmmakers, social entrepreneurs and artists who inspired the group to think about journalism and storytelling in new and different ways. Participants were assured that their remarks would be kept confidential, which encouraged candor and intimacy. Keith Woods, NPR’s Vice President for Diversity in News and Operations and a former dean at the Poynter Institute, served as the retreat’s co-facilitator.
Actor, playwright and journalist Dan Hoyle opened the program on Friday evening with a riveting performance of excerpts from his award-winning solo play, “The Real Americans,” and his latest work-in-progress about the transition from the analog to the digital experience. Hoyle, whose journalism work has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon and Mother Jones, spoke candidly about his process to create what he calls “journalistic theater.” He observed that while his research employs his skills as a reporter, his form plays to the strengths of the theater in service to the larger truth he is trying to convey.
On Saturday, Joe Lambert, the co-founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Storytelling, led the group through a powerful participatory process of deep listening and of sharing stories and personal narratives. The journalists wrote from prompts, received feedback from each other, and told stories about what Lambert called “the sublime points in life.”
“Joe’s process was cathartic and powerful,” said Funabiki. “He gave new meaning to the word ‘listen’ and engendered a high degree of trust among the journalists, allowing them to share insights about their lives and their work.”
At the conclusion of the weekend retreat, the participants said they felt “recharged,” “more confident in my role and mission,” and “inspired.”
“I felt embraced and supported, which made it easier to open up, “ emailed a journalist who participated in the retreat. Others said they were struck by the high level of camaraderie that developed among the participants in just two days. “This is the first journalism-related event I attended that didn’t feel at all dog-eat-dog-ish,” an attendee wrote.
“It is so rare,” wrote another journalist, “to be able to connect with colleagues in this field in such a personal human way.”
Renaissance Journalism thanks The Whitman Institute, the Panta Rhea Foundation and the Kalliopeia Foundation for their support of “Purpose & Passion: A Storytelling Retreat for Journalists.”
Read Jon Funabiki’s blog about the retreat here.
And watch this website for more photos from the retreat and announcements about future programs offered by Renaissance Journalism.