Alex Tizon shares thoughts on significance of the fellowship & Restorative Narrative
Alex Tizon has reported stories around the world. Here he is reporting from the Philippines. (Photo courtesy of Tizon.)
Throughout the next six months, five journalists will explore the Restorative Narrative genre as part of a new Images & Voices of Hope fellowship. Our talented fellows — Alex Tizon, Jake Harper; Elissa Yancey, Rochelle Riley and Ben Montgomery — will tell Restorative Narratives in various cities across the U.S., including Ferguson, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.
We recently asked Tizon — a Pulitzer-winning journalist who now teaches at the University of Oregon — why he thinks the Restorative Narrative genre is important, why he’s drawn to the fellowship, and what he hopes to get out of it. Here is our email exchange with him…
Mallary Tenore: What will this fellowship enable you to do as a journalist and professor?
Alex Tizon: It’ll help me pursue a story that kind of fell in my lap last summer. I didn’t have the funding or the forum. The fellowship will help in both areas. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It almost makes me believe in fate. I’ll need to take at least two trips, one to Alaska, the other to either Arizona or Idaho.
And once I have the reporting done, I’ll get to work with a world-class writing coach, Jacqui Banaszynski, and several superb colleagues and ivoh fellows who can give me critical feedback. As a professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, I’m expected, in addition to teaching, to also produce journalism, so the fellowship will help me fulfill university requirements as well as keep my storytelling chops sharp.
The best part, though — the part that gets me excited — is being able to go on an adventure in pursuit of a good story.
Without giving the story away, can you give us a sense of what you’ll be reporting on?
The story is a sort of follow-up to a Column One piece that I did for the Los Angeles Times 10 years ago. It was about vanished people in Alaska. I kept in touch with one family whose story took a surprising and dramatic turn last summer.
The story is about the agony and stubborn hope that took possession of the lives of this family. The topic appeals to me because it involves a particular kind of suffering, the suffering of not knowing what happened to a loved one.
From my perspective, it would seem like the worst kind of hell. The people going through it have to call upon a different kind of toughness and resiliency to keep from going mad or losing all hope.
What draws you to the Restorative Narrative genre?
I really like the idea and drive behind it. So many of us who’ve been in journalism a long time recognize the need for different ways of framing news stories, ways that don’t just lead back to intractable conflict, cynicism or despair.
Not many journalists intend to be cultivators of hopelessness, but the accumulation of all our stories over time seems to have that effect on many people, entire communities, even on ourselves. Simply asking, “Might there be another way to tell the story?” is a good start.
And it takes gumption to take it a step further and ask, “Might there be a way to tell it that contributes meaningfully — and not just in a token way — to hope, healing or reconciliation?”
The questions are worth asking. This thought keeps flitting around in my brain: There’s been so much discussion about journalism needing new business models; what if saving journalism really has more to do with new models of storytelling? Ones that help people get up in the morning and live consciously, rather than make people more afraid or resigned and want to stay asleep?
What do you want to get out of this fellowship/what do you hope to learn from it?
I think we — the organizers and fellows — are all naturally drawn to the broad idea of Restorative Narrative, but I also think that most of us are still trying to figure out what we really mean and how to express it without slipping into sentimentality or Pollyanna-ism.
I mean, we’ve all done “brights” and feel-good features, but I think we’re attempting something different, more substantial and fundamental. I’d like to come up with a working definition that’s compatible with who I am as a storyteller.
The challenge after that, and the one that really matters, is learning how to do these stories, and do them convincingly and artfully enough to persuade editors to run them, and get readers to read them all the way to the end.