Among the local journalists in Boston last weekend talking about narrative non-fiction were the LAT's Pulitzer winner (for Enrique's Journey) Sonia Nazario, her editor Rick Meyer, the NYT's Charlie LeDuff, UC Irvine's Barry Siegel and USC's Victor Merina. Reports from the 2003 Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism are on this official blog, in this recap from Chip Scanlan at PoynterOnline and this one by Bill Kirtz of Northeastern University, who listened to a presentation by Nazario and Meyer:
She said that following the trail of "at risk" people, such as migrant workers and illegal immigrants, produces compelling journalism but raises questions about if and when to intervene.
"A story has to convey reality," she declared. "You can't change things, and I tell (my subjects) my rules upfront: 'I can't help you.'"
But she will step in if someone she's covering "is faced with imminent danger or would suffer irreparable harm. Only you know where that line is."
As examples, she said she wouldn't share her blanket with Enrique, or give him money to make a crucial phone call. But she did alert authorities to a young rape victim's continued peril.
Rick Meyer, her editor on the series and himself a Pulitzer feature writing finalist, also faced a complex problem -- how to assure readers that Enrique's saga was scrupulously accurate without slowing it with traditional attribution.
"We wanted readers to have it both ways -- a lickety-split narrative uncluttered by 'he said' while letting them see exactly how we got this stuff." He said he and colleagues decided on extensive endnotes showing the sources for every scene.
Initially skeptical about the need for such elaborate efforts to reassure readers, Meyer said he changed his mind after the Jayson Blair scandal erupted.
Speaker bios and photos are here.