Mar 22, 2009

That's All, Folks? Not Quite!

The Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism is drawing to a close. But it's not over yet on the blog, as your faithful bloggers will continue to post our gleanings from the weekend. Ernie is currently doing a follow-up interview with Gambian journalist Modou Nyang, who may have had the longest journey to get here. And I will be posting Flip Cam interviews with some of your favorite speakers, including Jon Lee Anderson, Mara Schiavocampo, Andrew Meldrum, and Adam Hochschild. Check back tonight or Monday for those. The folks over at the Nieman Lab have also promised a bunch of interview videos, plus a Twitter summary of the entire weekend. (Ooh la la!)

If you have questions about a panel I covered, and wonder if I might have that quote you're looking for somewhere in my digital notes, just shoot me an e-mail:

It's been fun.

More from Ifill

Ifill on White journalists who cover blacks and black issues:
“I was always expected to write about white people, so I always expected white people to write about black people,” Ifill said.
She added that it should be expected that curious journalists should be expected to get to know and write and report about people from different backgrounds.

Ifill on the Debate: Ifill gave some remarkable insights to her feelings about the criticism she received before the Palin-Biden debate.

Republicans argued that her forthcoming book had prejudiced her against the GOP.

“It was an interesting experience,” said Ifill, adding that as she was preparing for the debate, she went into intense preparation and had also broken her leg. “So I was much more concerned about my orthopedic health that what was being said on Matt Drudge. And I was surrounded by people who kept me from the chatter.”

Ifill said despite the chatter, she remained true to herself. She said she had actually finished her questions for the debate on the same day she hurt her leg.

“One thing I knew is that I wasn’t changing a word,” Ifill said. “In my head, that was important.”
Ifill said that in the end, she realized that the criticism was about her. But more about a dysfunctional campaign. John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, initially supported Ifill’s pick as moderator, but changed his tune two days later.

“People were trying to get in my head hoping that I would over or under compensate,” Ifill said. “But I said, let them have their way. Watch what I say. Read the book that I write and see.”

“I was trying to have a debate, not an inquisition,” Ifill said. “My job was to make sure I had probing questions, and if I was satisfied, I didn’t care if people had other opinions.”


Ifill's All Over Twitter

The collected gems of Gwen Ifill's speech are on Twitter. Go to and type in #NNC to the search box. Voila! The high points at your fingertips. Proper grammar and spelling, maybe not so much.


Separated at Birth?

Ifill kicked off her speech by joking that she was going to let Queen Latifah come stand in for her. The audience got a big kick out of that. But some of our international friends might not have been familiar with the context. Let’s go back to the 2008 election. Ifill scored the coup of the election by getting chosen to moderate the Vice Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and the fascinating Sarah Palin.

Interestingly enough, Ifill caught some heat from conservatives who cried that her book, “The Breakthrough,” made her an Obama supporter. Therefore, she could not be objective. Ifill’s professionalism and even moderating quickly dispelled that notion.

Well, after the debate was over, you just knew that SNL was going to lampoon it. Especially with all of the attention that Palin was getting and the buzz that Tina Fey was getting for playing her weekly. Sure enough, that following Saturday, the show spoofed the debate. But, as you might also know, SNL doesn’t have any black female characters. (notice that when they spoof The View, Kenon Thompson always plays Whoopi, but since there is no other black woman or person for that matter, Sherri is always on vacation).

Anyway, to combat that – and to save us from seeing Kenon in a dress again – Queen Latifah made a surprise appearance playing Ifill. She was brilliant. Take a look at the photos of the two.

The great Gwen Ifill, the managing editor and moderator for Washington Week (PBS) and a senior correspondent for The NewsHour, is delivering the closing keynote address. Ifill is the author of the recent best-seller, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”
Aside from Obama, the book also deals with black rising politicians like Duval Patrick, Cory Booker and Artur Davis, who is running for the governor of Alabama.
“Talk about audacity of hope,” quipped Ifill,
This is her first book. She said that as she wrote, she talked to several authors, to get advice on how to write. Some told her to write early in the morning. Others told her to write at night. For everyone she interviewed, there was a different story.
“I finally decided that I was going to have to figure out how to do it myself,” Ifill said.
More to come.

Gwen Ifill's Closing Speech: Part 1

Gwen Ifill said she's been telling the story of the "breakthrough generation" of African-Americans in American politics throughout her whole career.

Finally, she's turned it into a book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

In one of her first internships, where her coworkers had "never seen an educated black woman before," she once found a note that said, "Nigger go home."

Her boss was horrified and knew who had written the note--but didn't want to fire him. To smooth over the incident, she was promised a job working for The Boston Herald if she ever wanted one.

Her first reaction, she said, was that she would never work for those racists. Not much later, she realized, the offer of any job sounded pretty good.

Ifill went on to cover the crisis over school desegregation in Boston and the presidential candidacy of Rev. Jesse Jackson early in her career,

"The solution for all the breakthrough candidates I've covered over the years was finding that sameness," what connected them to voters, Ifill said.

But they also realized they didn't wait for someone to summon them--they had to go and grab what they wanted. Many of the breakthrough African-American politicians had their racial authenticity questioned, and most of them lost their first political race.

"Every single one of them was told, 'It's not your turn yet,'" Ifill said.

The reason people kept asking of Barack Obama, is he black enough? Is he too black? was really because they were asking

"What they were asking were, are you representing me? Are you on my side? ...Will you speak for me?" Ifill said.


Tips on Timing

Tips from the book publishing session:

Journalists often underestimate how long it takes to write a book, book agent Tina Bennett says, because they're used to producing on deadline and think they can just get it out. But writing a book is a different challenge, Bennett said.

Nobody--nobody--can write a book in a year, one of the panelists said.

Jane Kamensky said that the right time to write a book proposal is not when you're still playing with the idea and unsure what you're going to do. Writing you book proposal should be a time when you can already write something substantive, when you know your material and can see the shape of your book. Kamensky said that writing her 45-page book proposal was incredibly rewarding: it's when the book really came together for her. But Kamensky also warned that it may be a bad idea to write too much of your book before writing a proposal. You'll lose your spark and excitement about the idea. You don't want to start pushing the book 5 years into the project, when the idea has already been in the oven at 400 degrees for hours, and "dinner" is getting dry and overbaked.

The moment for writing your book proposal, then: when you know enough to be convincing but are still excited about charging into the research territory ahead.

Tina Bennett had similar advice, "A project really benefits from a shaping editorial conversation," she said--how to structure it, how to pace it, how to tailor it to the market.

Wendy Wolf said that getting a full nonfiction manuscript makes her nervous. But when I get a full book, I wonder, who cut this book loose? Who did they write it for originally? she said.

But she qualified that some people just have a book in them and need to get it out immediately. If what you need to do is that, do it."