New York Times journalist inspires students at college
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College alumna turned Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning journalist Sarah Kramer returned to her alma mater Oct. 11 to talk about new channels for storytelling, eccentric interview subjects and her job as the multimedia producer for The New York Times.
Her talk, called “Personal Narrative in the Digital Age,” was the first this year in the college’s Meet the Press series. It drew from Kramer’s 15 years as a multimedia journalist.
“Digital narratives allow us to know our world in all of its different dimensions,” said Sue Halpern, Scholar in Residence of English and American Literatures, when introducing the speaker. “And there is probably no one who does it better than Sarah Kramer.
Addressing an audience at Middlebury College for the second time (she last came to the college in 2006), Kramer shared her journey from Middlebury art history major to the Metro desk at one of the country’s biggest newspapers. Much to the delight of many students in attendance, she also took her audience behind the scenes of her noteworthy projects for The Times, sharing anecdotes about discovering and interviewing favorite characters from the “1 in 8 Million” series and “Coming Out.”
Kramer also shared some new projects, including a video about an Iraq veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The 1997 Middlebury graduate got her audio-producing chops as one of the first employees for National Public Radio’s oral history project StoryCorps and as a reporter, editor and a producer at The Times, where she wears many hats over the development of each projects.
After the speaking portion of the event, Kramer fielded a flood of questions. She gave practical advice to aspiring writers, who asked about making interview subjects more comfortable and how she decides which medium — audio, video, photo or print — would be most appropriate to the story. Some addressed her in her capacity as a New York Times employee, wondering in what direction the newspaper would go in the coming years.
Kramer’s talk focused on the human element of storytelling. Though her work crosses mediums and distribution platforms, she said people are at the heart of each of her projects. The “digital age,” Kramer noted, is one that is seemingly made for personal narrative, because anyone has the ability to upload their stories onto YouTube or other sharable platforms.
She expressed excitement, too, about the potential for the Internet to facilitate more discussion than traditional publishing platforms around solid, well-researched journalistic pieces, describing in particular the flood of reader input that The Times received after publishing “Coming Out.”
“There was this real desire to be able to comment on each other’s stories, (for readers) to talk to each other,” Kramer remembered. “I’ve been thinking a lot about that in my work going forward, to continue to up the level of engagement in our readers, not in place of journalism but in ways that helps the conversation keep going on.”
Next up in the Meet the Press series will be a talk by Peter Beinart, author of the “Zion Square” blog at the Daily Beast and former editor of “The New Republic.” He will speak at the Robert A. Jones ‘59 House Conference Room on Thursday, Nov. 1 beginning at 7:30 p.m. The public is invited.
Reporter Xian Chiang-Waren is at [email protected].