For a few years now, the GateHouse Media News & Interactive Division has been training and encouraging wide use of alternative story formats.
We have pushed that ASFs are good for readers. Studies show that readers want more entry points and that in many cases they can save reporters time.
A few weeks ago I taught at an Associated Press Managing Editors NewsTrain event in Madison, Wisc., on alternative story formats for a group of about 50 reporters.
The proof of success in any kind of training, especially when it's outside your company, is if those who attended the training actually go back to their newspaper and implement what you talked about.
I always find it interesting to see how journalists outside of GateHouse Media react to our content strategies and that's why I think it's worth showing what the Kenosha News has done.
One of the reporter's who attended the training in Wisconsin wrote to me last week with a few examples of what they have done, along with some commentary on how the transition to new story formats is going.
Here's one of my favorites, which looks at a training program for local firefighters. The ASF offers the nut graph of what happened, along with a nice map of where the exercise occurred and a lot of nice by the number information and small profiles on the firefighters. This format clearly took some planning.
Here's what Jessica Stephen, one of the reporter's at the newspaper had to say about the ASF transition:
"We're still embracing the idea that ASFs truly can stand on their own, no supporting (story) cast required. We're a little conflicted about not routing all ASFs through the graphics desk, although (the disk of template ideas you provided) has already widely opened the eyes of one page designer, who now adamantly believes the copy desk can and should design layouts for many of these alternate stories.
But… we’re making progress. We’re excited to be doing something new. And readers are noticing, even enjoying the new approach."
While all of our newspapers don't have graphic artists, the takeaway is this: Alternative story formats work, but getting there takes persistence, time and commitment from everyone.
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