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Photojournalist Martha Rial will lead a series of story-telling workshops at the former Daily News Building beginning this Tuesday. (Tube City Almanac photo)
The old newsroom of the McKeesport Daily News will echo once again with the sounds of writers and photographers working on their story-telling skills.
But many of the stories they tell will likely be personal ones --- and they'll be working in formats that many newspaper employees never got a chance to experiment with.
"Tube City Writers" will hold its first organizational meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the building at 409 Walnut St., now called the Tube City Center for Business and Innovation.
Martha Rial, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1998, will lead the meetings, along with author Nicole Peeler, an associate professor at Seton Hill University in Greensburg.
A Murrysville native, Rial has been walking around McKeesport for the last two weeks, spreading the word about the workshops, which are being done under the auspices of the Point Park University Center for Media Innovation.
Rial has done similar community journalism projects in Wilkinsburg and Sharpsburg, and says that spreading the word on the streets is actually one of her favorite parts.
"I've gone door-to-door to the McKeesport Family Center, the Common Ground Building, I've papered Penn State (Greater Allegheny), five different churches, Sen. (Jim) Brewster's office, city hall," Rial says.
"One young woman working at the Shop 'n Save asked me if she could come. I said, of course, and bring a friend! I've been to a couple of laundromats. I asked one woman at the laundromat, do you like to write? She looked at me so serious and said, 'No!' But her little girl said yes."
Meetings are tentatively scheduled for the second and fourth Tuesday nights of each month, Rial says, but she's also planning some "safaris" out into the community --- particularly to events such as July 4 fireworks, and International Village in August.
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Rial says she fell in love with storytelling --- and especially with the power of photos to tell a story --- as a teen-ager going to Franklin Regional schools, and looking at copies of the old Life and Look newsmagazines.
From Murrysville she attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Ohio University, where she earned a bachelor's of fine art, and then began work at the now-defunct Fort Pierce, Fla., Tribune, and the Journal Newspapers in Alexandria, Va.
"You can’t beat Florida for being a photojournalist," Rial says.
In 1994, she began work at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where her photos of East African refugees fleeing violence in Rwanda and Burundi earned her the Pulitzer Prize, America's most prestigious journalism award.
Rial spent 13 years at the newspaper and later became a freelance photographer, but has been steadily leaving the daily grind of news gathering behind to work on community projects.
"That’s really where my heart is now," she says. In 2016, Rial worked with Hazelwood residents and Pittsburgh's Office of Public Art to create a photography mural for the community, and with Wilkinsburg to make a portrait of Remy McIntyre, the final valedictorian of the borough's high school, which closed that year.
Since then, she has partnered with residents of Sharpsburg and the Heinz Endowments to create three photo murals of that community. Two more are planned.
"The thing I'm most proud of is bringing together people who normally wouldn't talk to one another to work on projects," Rial says.
With the McKeesport writing groups, Rial is welcoming writers of all ages and all skill levels to participate. Although Rial's passion is for non-fiction storytelling, she expects some writers will want to work on fiction in many forms. At least one person has expressed an interest in writing a script for a movie, she says.
The topics that the workshops cover will largely be dictated by the participants, Rial says, but she hopes to include discussions on how to publish and, maybe, get paid for your work.
"I want them to be able to take their work home and archive it," she says. "I want them to be able to learn some basic software, learn how to write captions for photos, and we probably will talk about self-publishing."
Social media seems to dominate our every day life, but Rial wants aspiring writers to know there's more to storytelling than snapping photos or tweeting comments. "The world is not Facebook and Instagram," she says. "There are a lot of challenges, and hopefully we can tackle them one at a time."
Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published May 13, 2019.