November 29, 2016

Non-traditional news story forms go by many names: charticles, non-narratives, storytelling devices, alternative story forms, ASFs and alts, among others. Some stand alone as a story, and some are supplemental: forms that clarify, complement and explain information in a traditional news story. And some can either stand alone or complement the story.

Here are some hybrid forms, with tips on how to use them effectively.

Q and A: These are perfect for those teachable moments. A good Q and A anticipates readers’ questions — in the order they would ask them. Usually each answer will include the inspiration for the next question. While writing a Q and A, listen to that “But what about…” voice in your head. Think like a reader.

Quiz: A quiz is similar to a FAQ. This time, the answers are delayed. For quizzes in print, make the answers easy to find in your newspaper or magazine. Online, make the quiz short, perhaps 10 questions at most.

Timeline: A chronology of events can help the reader see the step-by-step process of how news unfolds.

Calendar: This form consists of itineraries. It can give a forward-looking tone to your coverage.

By the Numbers: Some stories are heavy on statistics, making for difficult reading. Yet, numbers can have tremendous meaning when used effectively. A “by the numbers” — in which key numbers are compiled in a list or divided by theme — can make poll stories and other stats-heavy stories more accessible. Be sure to explain what the numbers mean; sometimes a “by the numbers” story can feel like a random collection of figures that’s devoid of context.

Top Lists: You’re reading one right now. Lists are handy for collecting and organizing numerous items. The items can be ranked by importance, placed in chronological order or in whatever form makes sense. Some media critics have noted the proliferation of lists, so you may want to guard against using them too often. Checklists are similar, but they add an element of assessment. Did the mayor do what she said she would? A checklist will tell us.

Taken from Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Creating Alternative Story Forms, a self-directed course by Andy Bechtel at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
Vicki Krueger

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