5 stories that can be told with alternative story forms

Standalone alternative story forms (ASF) do just what their name implies: They stand alone as independent stories, with no traditional story to accompany them. Like a standalone photo or graphic, the standalone ASF needs to be a complete story. It might be all the reader will see about the topic, particularly in print media.

Some opportunities are more ripe for a standalone ASF than others. One editor said that any story assignment that makes reporters roll their eyes is a good candidate for an alternative approach. Here are some stories that can be told with an alternative form.

Recurring events. Journalists routinely cover graduations, speeches, annual awards ceremonies and other news that seems to happen over and over. An alternative approach can make this more interesting for the reporter, editor — and reader.

Announcements, openings and previews. Stories that set the stage for news to come, such as an advance look at the State of the Union, can be told in alternative forms. So can news of the latest store opening or road closure.

Surveys and reports. Polls and governmental reports tend to be heavy in numbers and technical jargon. Readers are looking for a way to make sense of numbers. An alternative story form that puts this information into context and groups findings by theme can help.

Teachable moments. Some news topics require explanation. "What is bird flu?" "Why are politicians able to use phone solicitations to voters who are on the 'do not call' list?" Journalists can provide the answers in accessible blocks of information.

Updates and assessments. Because of the churn of news, it's easy for journalists to focus solely on the day's events. That approach works for some types of news. But for ongoing or complex stories, we owe it to our audience to step back and give them a wider view. A "report card" on the governor's promises versus his achievements can do this.

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

    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 position as marketing communications manager.

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