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Home > Publications > Quill > NewsGems: Telling stories in different ways


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Monday, May 7, 2007
NewsGems: Telling stories in different ways

Commentary by Jon Marshall

When I first learned to report, my teachers and editors taught me to pound my words into inverted pyramids. For a twist, they showed me how to write feature stories with descriptive or anecdotal leads. Many of us have relied on these classic forms over the years, but some journalists are using new media to tell their stories in entirely different and effective ways, as these examples show.

Map

The Bakersfield Californian Web site has a terrific feature called “Lost Treasures.” Staff writer Jeff Nachtigal has profiled 23 of Bakersfield’s old hot spots, the places all the old-timers remember such as the skating rink, pancake house, billiard hall and drive-in movie theater.

Using Flash, he links the stories, audio reminiscences and photos of the places onto a map of Bakersfield dotted with signs or pictures from each location. Web Editor Davin McHenry helped put the whole package together. It’s a great way to tour through the city’s past and a wonderful way to present these stories.

“Lost Treasures"

Timeline

NPR has constructed a timeline that uses numbers to tell a story. “The Toll of War” shows the number of U.S. troop fatalities for each month since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. When you click on a month, you can see a photo and synopsis of that month’s news, hear an audio excerpt from NPR covering those events or go to a full NPR story.

If you click on another tab, you’ll see a chart showing different estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians and security forces that have died during the fighting. When you click on each estimate, you can see the methodology that was used.

“The Toll of War”

Embedded documents

In “A Case of Identity,” Sean Robinson of the Tacoma News Tribune leads us on a detective chase through the world of identify theft. In addition to the tight writing, I love how this story’s Web package lists the cast of characters and offers resources people can use if their own identity is swiped. In the Web version, Robinson creatively embeds within the story actual documents and letters that he used in piecing together this mystery.

“A Case of Identity"

The whole package

“Dismantling the Bomb,” by April Kinser of the Dallas Morning News, uses every trick in the new media book to take us inside the world of taggers and graffiti makers.

Kinser gives us photos of graffiti from around the Dallas area (some of it is quite stunning), a glossary of graffiti terms, a who’s who of famous graffiti artists, videos of taggers talking about their work and of police and community leaders criticizing it, and a chance for viewers to share their comments and photos. Oh yes, there’s a sharply written explanatory story as well.

"Dismantling the Bomb"

Blog

In 1987, a Milwaukee judge made the controversial decision to remove a newborn boy with severe spina bifida from the care of his parents so he could receive possibly lifesaving surgery.

Nearly 20 years later, Crocker Stephenson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recounts what has happened since then to the boy, Tim Krahling, who is now on the cusp of manhood.

“In a Child’s Best Interests” describes how lives can intersect in odd and surprising ways. In addition to the story itself, Stephenson offers a blog that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the reporting of the story and the difficult decisions that went into it.

Since the blog first appeared, people from around the country have contributed, sharing their own experiences with spina bifida.

“In a Child’s Best Interests”


Jon Marshall's NewsGems highlights the best of American Journalism each day. Read more on SPJ's Web site.

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