Wick Communications

Get off the story line

In Editing on July 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm

This week I have the privilege of visiting the fine folks in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. I’m actually the third “guest editor” to come calling of late at the Daily Herald. Stephen Hemelt from the New Iberia Daily Iberian and Steven Byerly from the Sierra Vista Herald made the trek as well in the last couple of months and they provided the newspaper with a wealth of ideas. I’m just bringing up the rear.

One of those good ideas merits mention here.

Byerly got the Daily Herald staff thinking about “nonlinear” storytelling. By that he means creating a method for readers to jump to the information that interests them.

Traditionally, newspaper reporters went to some government meeting and returned to write a 30-inch story, in inverted-pyramid form, regurgitating all that happened at the meeting. As Byerly notes, those days are gone…

As one way of addressing that reality, he suggested Roanoke Rapids employ subheads that essentially announce to readers where they can find the stuff that interests them. A reader who cares deeply about county parkland might not turn to a story that begins, “The Weldon City Council Thursday opened salary negotiations aimed at keeping its city manager.” But she might if that reader knows from a subhead that “Park budget discussed” later in the story.

Another thing they have fully embraced in Roanoke Rapids is the info box. I’m talking about those cute little bullet-point boxes that often run in the shoulder of news stories that tell the reader the highlights. These are also great for announcing upcoming meetings:

Weldon City Council

What: City Council meets to discuss parks, city manager salary

When: 10 a.m. July 6

Where: 10 Main Street, Weldon

Info: Call (123) 555-1212 for details.

We used to call subheads, info boxes and the like “points of entry.” They are additional chances to grab readers. You can’t have too many of those.

Clay

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