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"Backpack Journalism" Workshops
Unleash Your Inner Journalist!

Today, the tools for reporting are available to many and can fit in a backpack: a video camera, portable editing software, a laptop, and an Internet connection. The era of the citizen reporter is here and it is revolutionizing news reporting.

Video: Backpack Journalism
Video iconVideo: Workshop in Action
Watch a behind-the-scenes video of the Backpack Journalism Workshop.
NOW on PBS has teamed up with Emmy award winning producer Bill Gentile—an early pioneer of "backpack journalism" with over 30 years of field experience—with the goal of empowering people to produce powerful TV and web productions. Information is power, and we aim to help you harness that power to document and change the world you live in.

In a four-day intensive workshop you will learn the full range of skills required for effective storytelling—from idea development and successful pitching to scriptwriting and editing of the final product. You will also have the unique opportunity to submit your work for possible posting on the NOW on PBS website, one of the most visited sites of its kind.

Participants will:

Bill Gentile will students from the first backpack journalism workshop held in December 2008.
Bill Gentile with students from the second Backpack Journalism workshop, held in March 2009. Read student testimonials.
  • Learn to use filmmaking equipment and software to make compelling, character-driven documentaries.
  • Discover how to tailor your work for greatest impact.
  • Learn to package your presentation and to mold your message for major broadcasters and Internet outlets.
  • Gain access to the editors and producers of the Emmy-winning newsmagazine NOW on PBS.
  • Work side-by-side with some of the best video documentary makers, journalists and storytellers in the field.
  • Gain exposure, by submitting your final project on the NOW on PBS website.

The next Backpack Journalism workshop will be held from Thursday, December 10 to Sunday, December 13 2009 at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis and space is limited. To apply, please download an online application [pdf]. For further information, read the workshop FAQs below and contact Bill Gentile at Bill Gentile.

Workshop FAQs

The deadline for registration is November 6, 2009.

What are the Backpack Journalism Workshops?

The Backpack Journalism Workshops with Bill Gentile and NOW on PBS are intensive, four-day immersions in the craft of "backpack journalism" defined as character-driven television/web production with hand-held digital cameras by a single practitioner. The workshops cover the gamut of this storytelling craft from the genesis and shaping of story ideas, to shooting powerful images that drive the story, to the capture and use of sound, to script writing, narration, and editing with Macintosh computers and Final Cut Pro.

Video iconWorkshop Videos
Watch the top videos produced by participants of the most recent Backpack Journalism Workshop.

"One More Game"
by David Coffey

"New Face in Town"
by Daniel Cox

"Just a Block Off Main"
by Sarah Sheya

"Showing His Mettle"
by John Clarke Russ
Who should attend?

The Backpack Journalism Workshops with Bill Gentile and NOW on PBS are for beginners with some experience as well as more seasoned practitioners who want to sharpen their skills and acquire new ones. We welcome photojournalists making the transition to film and video. Print journalists seeking to expand their skills will find the workshops particularly useful. Broadcast journalists accustomed to the technology and techniques preceding today's hand-held digital cameras will find that the newer equipment delivers a more immediate, intimate version of visual communication than their predecessors. Video journalists, documentarians, filmmakers and independent storytellers who want to expand their skill set and learn from one of the pioneers in the field also will benefit from the workshops. You must be at least 18 years old to attend.

What will I learn?

You will learn how to use the power of visual information. You will learn to use hand-held digital cameras to document and to change the world you live in. You will learn a new dialect and you will learn to participate in the international dialogue that is visual communication. You will learn how to make powerful television and web productions, to tailor your work for greatest impact, to package your presentation and to mold your message for major broadcasters and Internet outlets. You will learn about gaining access to the editors and producers, such as those at NOW on PBS. You will learn how to compete with some of the best video documentary makers, journalists and storytellers in the field. And you will learn how to pitch your work for broadcast or posting on one of the most visited sites of its kind on the Internet.

Who will teach the workshops?

Bill Gentile at work in the southern Helmand Province of Afghanistan
Bill Gentile at work in the southern Helmand Province of Afghanistan for NOW: Afghanistan: The Forgotten War, which aired in July 2008.
The primary teacher is Bill Gentile, an independent filmmaker teaching at American University in Washington, DC. He is a pioneer in the craft of backpack journalism and character-driven documentary, and is one of the first to use the hand-held digital cameras that have revolutionized visual communication for television and the Web. He worked for Video News International (VNI), precursor of The New York Times Television Company, and has completed assignments for The Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television, ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel, NOW on PBS, Court TV and Lion TV. He shared the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights Reporting, Honorable Mention, for a story on rape during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. He shared two National Emmy Awards and was nominated for a third.

Gentile's most recent work for NOW on PBS includes "Nurses Needed", about the critical shortage of nurses in America. He also traveled to Afghanistan to shoot and produce "Afghanistan: The Forgotten War". Gentile was embedded as Correspondent/Producer for nearly three weeks with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province along the border with Pakistan.

Gentile brings over 30 years of field experience, most of them in visual communication, to these workshops. He began in 1977 as reporter for the Mexico City News and correspondent for United Press International (UPI) based in Mexico City. He spent two years as editor on UPI's Foreign Desk in New York, then moved to Nicaragua and became Newsweek Magazine's Contract Photographer for Latin America and the Caribbean. His book of photographs, "Nicaragua," won the Overseas Press Club Award for Excellence. Gentile is featured in two award-winning documentaries about international journalism in Nicaragua, "The World Is Watching," and "The World Stopped Watching." See his bio and examples of his work at: Bill Gentile, American University, the Foreign Correspondence Network and American Today.

Assisting at the workshops is Ted Roach, director, editor and producer of dozens of films and documentaries. Roach most recently worked with the American News Project in Washington, DC. See his bio at: Ted Roach.com.

Joining Ted is Bill Delano, a former student of Gentile's at American University and now a highly successful backpack journalist whose long list of accomplishments includes work with the Travel Channel. See his bio [pdf].

A representative from NOW on PBS will also be present at the workshops to discuss how to effectively pitch story ideas to broadcast and web outlets. You will learn how to package yourself and your work, and other key points of both the craft and the business.

Where and when is the workshop being held?

The Backpack Journalism workshop with Bill Gentile and NOW on PBS is being held from Thursday, August 20 to Sunday, August 23 2009, at the American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. Daily sessions will run from 9 am until 9 pm. The AFI Silver Theatre is located at 8633 Colesville Road, at the intersection of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, in the heart of the new downtown Silver Spring. Times and venues for other workshops will be announced soon.

What should participants bring?

"The workshop was, far and away, the best professional development experience I've ever had." Read more student testimonials.
Participants are required to bring his/her own digital camera, Mac computer with Final Cut Pro, external hard drive and tape. We suggest mini-DV cameras with manual capability to allow practitioners to control aperture, shutter speed and focus. The Sony PD-170, for example, is perfect for this purpose because it offers easy access to the manual capabilities from which you will learn. For questions about the suitability of your equipment please contact Bill Gentile at Bill Gentile.

How much does it cost?

The four-day workshop costs $1,495.00 per participant.

Does the fee include room, board or travel?

The fee does not include room, board or travel. Although workshop organizers will attempt to negotiate with local providers for reduced, group costs, all expenses incurred are the responsibility of the participant.

How do I enroll in the workshop?

Download the online application [pdf]. Fill it out and send it, along with a check or Money Order made out to Bill Gentile Productions, to:

Bill Gentile Productions
P.O. Box 42068
Washington, DC 20015

Or pay with credit card using PayPal. Go to www.billgentile.com and click on "Workshops."

Applications are accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Space is limited so don't wait to apply.

Can I get a refund if I have a sudden change of plans?

You get a 100 percent refund if you notify us 14 days or more prior to the beginning of the course; a 50 percent refund if you notify us between seven and 13 days prior to the beginning of the course; no refund is available if you advise us fewer than six days prior to the beginning of the course.

Who can I contact for more information?

For further assistance, contact Bill Gentile at Bill Gentile.


Student Testimonials

"I really have to thank you, again, for an experience that surpassed my expectations. It was honor to watch your compelling videos with you and listen to your insight ... I can't thank you enough for what you have taught me."

Ahmed Selim



"Just want to say how much I enjoyed the last week. It far exceeded my expectations. You're a great teacher, inspirational beyond words and a tremendous credit to the teaching profession."

Daniel J. Cox



"The workshop was a watershed experience or me and you have pointed me in a new and exciting direction with news presentation at my newspaper. If there has ever been a time to humanize stories in new ways such as web video, this is the time. The fire has been sparked!"

John Clarke Russ



"I couldn't be more pleased with what I learned and how you taught it. You moved us all from A to Z on so many different topics, you made us move out of our comfort zones and showed us that we can go get stories and make films anywhere. I am very excited to start taking this knowledge and applying it."

Bruce Jones



"The workshop was the best thing that's happened to me in a long time. I think I echo most everyone else when I thank you for the effort and skill that went into the last four days."

Dean Mougianis



"You are an inspiring and gifted teacher. The workshop was, far and away, the best professional development experience I've ever had."

Tom Lyons



"I have had exceptional teachers from time to time over the years, but none of them was simultaneously out in the world, risking it all, to single-handedly produce really important stories in such a uniquely compelling manner."

Dave Kieffer