institute for documentary studies


our core educational values

DO WORK THAT MAKES YOUR DOCUMENTARY HERO’S JAW DROP. The work has to be good. Really good. From the start ask the right questions, then go deeper and deeper. Look for the story within the story you are trying to tell. Every step of the way pursue review and critique by experts in the field, and be humble enough to know that there is always room for improvement. Try to grab the high bar, and once you think you have, stretch to grab the rung above it. Once the story is complete, the power of the narrative is in sharing it with a wider audience.

FULLY COMMIT TO EVERY ASPECT OF THE PROCESS. Give it everything you have. Be unyielding in the pursuit of feedback and new perspectives. Seek to make mistakes and learn from them. When you least feel like pushing yourself, that’s when you need to the most.

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS ARE ESSENTIAL FOR DOING OUR BEST WORK. Those with diverse backgrounds and differing perspectives enrich our lives and the stories we tell. Use respect and compassion as your guide. Establish boundaries that will challenge you and at times keep you safe. Know the difference. Most importantly, seek out the wisdom and experience of those around you.

BE CONSCIOUS AND DELIBERATE. Doing this work requires you to follow a set of ethical standards and guidelines and to be accountable for the choices you make. It begins with being honest and trustworthy with everyone. It continues by being clear about your intentions and consciously communicating them to others as you pursue your work.


ABOUT the Salt Institute

We’re a non-profit school in Portland, Maine offering semester-long intensive programs in documentary writing, radio, photography and new media with a focus on powerful and responsible storytelling. We also exhibit documentary work in our gallery and host documentary-related events.

Students come from all over the US and other countries for fifteen weeks of intensive field research, workshops and seminars. Throughout the semester, students gather cultural materials and develop their craft to create documentaries of professional caliber.

What Salt does has been called ethnography, storytelling, cultural journalism, oral history, folklore, qualitative sociology, documentary photography, visual anthropology, non-fiction writing, NPR-style radio and long-form journalism. But we are less concerned about what to call what we do than how we do it.


Our history

In 1973, a high school English teacher named Pamela Wood founded Salt in Kennebunk, Maine as a place to teach students how to become writers, photographers, and most of all, ethical storytellers. Over the years, much has changed at Salt. We’ve relocated five times, altered our name, expanded our programs, changed our student focus from high school to college and beyond, updated our look, and evolved our mission. Nevertheless, our commitment to teaching hungry students how to become truthful, thorough, and creative documentarians has never wavered.

Over 40 years, more than 1000 students from all over the country and the world have attended Salt. Each of those students has documented the stories of at least one, in most cases several, Mainers. Through our website, and our publications (new and old), we continue to share the stories of so many truly extraordinary people and the great work of our students. Each semester we are proud to send a group of powerful media makers out into the world hoping that they, in some way, continue to shape our ever-changing media landscape. As we grow, our goal is to educate + promote documentary storytellers through both our programs and events and, as a result, encourage the production of more substantive, ethical, and compelling documentary work for generations to come.


our mission is to
educate & promote

'inside salt stories'
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