Journalism stories: A multimedia approach (Part 3)

Yesterday I described the modules of a specific story with substance (one about increasing the national minimum wage in the U.S.), and Sunday I explained the steps necessary for a reporter or editor to come up with the right set of modules before starting to report ANY story.

I didn’t emphasize that the modules are all online — of course they are.

Two things I didn’t discuss earlier: How the story plays on TV or in the newspaper, and how you should package the story for online.

In the Newspaper and on TV

As briefly as possible: The story in other media is MORE than a tease for the online. And yet you MUST recognize that online is the primary vehicle for any substantial story today because of its characteristics. It can be updated easily as needed. It can be consulted at any time. It can be linked, by you and by others. It can be spread to a wider audience via e-mail and blogs and discussion forums.

However, the other news media are valuable for their own characteristics. In print, the goal would be to provide the most important facts of the story (there was a vote; the minimum wage will be raised; this will affect our community in these ways) and also to indicate that this is a deeper story and you can learn much more online.

In other words, treat the newspaper reader like a person who spends 20 minutes with the entire newspaper, at most. Because that’s a fact.

As for TV, you have a minute and 30 seconds to tell me something meaningful about this. I think the most meaningful thing might be how my representative in Washington voted, compared with the full House and Senate. Is the president likely to veto the bill? Then it might be nice to see a graphic of how many people in this state would actually see a bigger paycheck as a result. And then — of course — give me the URL so I can get the complete story online.

Online Presentation

The cardinal rule must be: Don’t overwhelm.

Too many journalism packages on the Web — or even non-journalism works of exceptional quality, such as Chesapeake Now and Then, produced for National Geographic by Second Story — are absolutely frightening in their comprehensiveness.

What we need is a new concept that mirrors the inverted pyramid in utility and yet reflects the complexity that we are now able to organize and manage for the readers-viewers-users.

This requires a traditional pyramid shape, with the point at the top. However, there is NEVER only one point. Every story that has any substance to it will have more than one entry point. Think of these as being represented by the modules you developed before reporting the story. Each module deals with a related set of questions — and a particular kind of interest.

So some of your site visitors, such as the owner of a local bicycle shop, will be quite interested in the small business angle of this story. As soon as she sees that topic on the entry page to the story package, she will click straight into it.

Other site visitors will be intrigued by questions about how many people this change will affect. Those visitors will go straight into the highly graphical module that conveys the economic and demographic data. Imagine how satisfied they will feel when they discover that the statistics are all relevant to them, because your news organization took the time to compile data about YOUR region (THEIR home).

The entry page to the package is the one page online that requires the most work, the most time and the most expertise. If you don’t have a competent information designer to create it, it won’t be very effective.

It is not a table of contents. It should not list everything that the package contains.

Think it over.

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One Comment on “Journalism stories: A multimedia approach (Part 3)

  1. I love this idea of looking at the newspaper as a 20-minute read and then tailoring the content to fit that. Hm. This reminds me of how I read USA TODAY.

    As you stated, TV’s time is even shorter. But TV stations get that because local channels (and the evening news shows) have so much to cram into a short period of time. Heck, even the 24-hour cable news channels (and the morning news shows) may be able to devote a little more time, but they still need to be concise when they present the headlines.

    But print newspapers don’t get it. They’re forcing themselves as the primary source, worrying about losing readers to the Internet. If only they would find their niche and give me a paper that I can use differently than how I would consume content on the Web, then they’ll keep me as a subscriber.

    Convincing editors and publishers of this is the challenge. But hey, that’s what makes all this so fun, right?

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