Storytelling searches for questions and new experiences


The more you know about your story, the more compelling it becomes, according to the senior editor for enterprise at CNN.

“They [readers] want to know that experience just as much as the facts,” Jan Winburn said.

She stressed students to put a personal touch to their news stories. Winburn said students should put themselves in their subjects’ shoes and understand them on a deeper level.

“As the world is changing I think lots editors, like myself and the people I work for, are coming to this realization that we’re not gonna’ be a goto place if it is just about the news.”

Professor Christopher Wohlwend, UT JEM lecturer, invited Winburn to speak because of her specialty in producing stories with depth fit for print, digital and broadcast media. According to Wohlwend, both are mutual friends in the media.

She has received the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, Investigative Reporters and the Editors’ awards, according to the Poynter website. Also, she has authored four books focusing on journalism issues. In one book, Telling True Stories, she and her former reporter, Lisa Pollak described a situation where storytelling and news merged.

In 1997, Pollak had to cover a story on the winner of the National Oreo Stacking Contest for The Baltimore Sun. The article was titled, “One Good Thing on Top of Another.” During that time, Winburn was the assistant managing editor for The Sun.

The original angle was on Ian Bembenek, a 7-year-old of Ellicott City. After Pollak met with the child, she decided to focus on Nyasha Dixon. Unlike Bembenek, Dixon had much more at stake.

Winburn said to the key to storytelling is to write about someone who has something at stake, to go the opposite direction of an angle other reporters would go.

Dixon was sharing a bedroom with her 6-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister. She thought with the money her mom could buy a bigger house with a room for herself.

“Take something beyond the tragedy and talk about the human nature.”

Winburn cited an article by Moni Basu, “The Girl Whose Raped Changed a Country.” The story was about a young woman Mathura (last name not given) who was raped at 14 in a rural police station in India. After the woman spoke up, a landmark case caused a countrywide women’s movement. Basu wanted to know what happened to the woman and her life.

Winburn received her bachelor’s degree from University of Missouri-Columbia in Journalism. She has 30-years experience prior to working at CNN. Winburn is a writing and editing fellow at the Poynter Institute. According to Poynter, she has worked for The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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