Forecaster Forum: A Saltie's reflection on the demise of Salt

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The first documentary project I completed at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland was a collaborative radio piece.

I wrote and narrated a story about a sardine cannery explosion in Port Clyde in 1970 and the devastating effects the cannery’s closing had on the livelihood of the townspeople. 

The final cut is rough, and my part in it is indicative that I had little radio experience. But for a budding journalist from Kentucky who was handed an assignment and the proper equipment, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to tell a story I otherwise would never have told. 

Prior to Salt I had never explored radio, photography or multimedia as avenues to tell stories. Though the remainder of my time during the fall semester of 2011 was focused primarily on long-form nonfiction, what I learned from collecting stories in Port Clyde still applies to and reaffirms my experiences today as a newspaper reporter.

Salt graduates were informed last week that the 42-year-old organization would close its doors, due to underfunding and lack of endowment. Prospective students accepted for the fall 2015 semester were told there will be no program for them to attend. 

The institution, though I don’t like to admit it, had its share of shortcomings; the lack of accreditation or a real graduate degree hindered its chance of being an otherwise noteworthy credential on my resume. And while I’m reluctant to criticize any of the documentary tracks, the emphasis on long-form writing prevented me, initially, from obtaining a job as a newspaper reporter.

While crafting stories at Salt, my inclination was to write slowly and elaborately, to use personal pronouns and paint details carefully with words because I believed minutiae added to the aesthetic of an article. These stylistic attributes affirmed at Salt were initially hammered out of me by subsequent editors. For a time, I was forced to begrudgingly shift my view of writing from storytelling to reporting.

Since then, the dichotomy has become less severe; my desire to write features is supported and I’m told by my editor to relax my style and write poetically. Moreover, I’m finding more and more that my stylistically varied background helps me strike a satisfying medium in my writing.

Even though my writing has evolved since I graduated in December 2011, one tenet gleaned from my time as a Saltie has continued to reverberate with equal force: the foundational belief that, if prompted, everybody has a story to tell. 

This truth has spilled over into many parts of my consciousness, and has instilled in me a persistent curiosity and respect for those I approach about stories. 

Salt’s shortcomings pale in comparison to the tools, lessons and experiences I was furnished with, and the very real effects those three months had on my skill set as a journalist, as a storyteller and as a person. 

I met some of my closest friends at Salt, as well as some of the most impressive photographers, writers and radio journalists, many of whom are just getting started in what will undoubtedly become very prolific careers.

The reality that future students will not have the opportunity to learn intimately about storytelling in an environment where it is revered is painful and incredibly unfortunate.  

As a fellow Saltie wrote last week after learning the sad news, “I feel so lucky we got in while the getting was good.”

Alex Acquisto lives in Portland and covers South Portland and Scarborough for The Forecaster.

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Alex Acquisto lives in Portland and covers South Portland and Scarborough for The Forecaster.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.