Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


Writing Class

We sit around a wooden table on plastic rolling chairs, regularly discussing the basics of journalism. More as we sink into our stories, we explore taking writing beyond reporting to a place where the reader can sense the scene. Colin said jazz doesn’t happen if you can't play the basic scales.

Friday at the head of the table, an editor from a local paper joined to talk about how he’s survived as a journalist. It was funny for him to sit in our newly renovated bright green room. Back in the day the Casco Bay Weekly lived in our building and our current writing room was called the “wood room”. It was a beat down place people would go to if they needed to talk about things that couldn’t be said in public.

His gave us pitch tips including:

  • Read publications before you submit. Notice their buzzwords.
  • Choose an area of interest and read widely on that topic.
  • Know your angle, and the publication's angle. Always be specific in a pitch.
  • He compared editors to dogs: a story’s not theirs until they’ve pissed on it. Be flexible when collaborating on a piece.
  • Don’t lie about access to sources. Be honest about what you can deliver.
  • Check submission guidelines for each publication.
  • Some editors prefer phone calls.
  • Don’t use clips from your college paper.
  • Pitch things that haven’t happened yet.
  • To get clips, call editors and offer to cover anything.

He heard our pitches. It was exciting to watch editor wheels in motion, imagining our stories in his paper, and inviting people to follow-up with stories for upcoming issues.

Yet we know, with papers folding all over the world, there is a new media emerging and we wonder what does this new media scene look like and how will it transform the way we tell stories?

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