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  • News Cube: Public service journalism templates

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  • What are the formats? Ten alternative story formats are available.
    Click here to download the Quark version templates (4,6 and 7) and Indesign version templates (CS, CS2, CS3).
    1. What’s Your Problem? Reporting on a problem in your community that can and should be fixed by local government. Readers are asked to send in their problems to the paper.
    What is it? What's Your Problem is a feature that documents ongoing structural problems in a community that haven’t been fixed, such as pot holes, broken stop signs and broken stoplights. Problems that are documented should be things that can be fixed in a timely fashion and not issues that are tied to major finances, such as the demolition of eyesore buildings.
    Why should we do this feature? Newsrooms often get calls from readers complaining about issues that are impacting safety and quality of life. The What’s Your Problem feature allows newsrooms a consistent place to anchor these stories.
    How do we get the feature going? Brainstorm with your staff on issues that readers have called in with or topics that residents have raised during meetings as needing to be fixed. Consider creating promotional ads as well, asking readers to send in problems they want to see fixed.
    The content:
    • Highlighting the issue or problem.
    • Status of the issue or problem.
    • Who is responsible for the problem at the local government level.
    2. What’s Going on Here? When readers see things occurring around town, such as a new development on a downtown street, they can find out what’s occurring by sending the question to the newspaper’s “What is it?” feature.
    What is it? Reporters aren’t the only curious residents in town. Readers are, too. The What’s Going on Here feature helps explain in an alternative story format why there's a “For Sale” sign in front of a historic building, why there's a detour around an old bridge or why there's a pile of dirt next to the ballfield.
    How is it used? Come up with a list of three or four possible What’s Going on Here topics and start reporting. The template has an area for readers to contact the paper if they want their questions answered. In addition, reporters and editors should document when readers ask them questions in their reporting and through phone calls that could fit into the future.
    The content:
    • The question.
    • The answer.
    • What it means to you.­
    Page 2 of 5 - 3. Budget Breakdown: Helps readers understand how governments are spending local tax dollars, with a focus on specific budget lines.
    What is it? Budget Breakdown zeroes in on one particular number within a multi-million-dollar town or city budget and explains exactly what the money is being spent on, according to the city leader in charge of the budget. The feature puts the number into the context of the overall budget and the individual department budget.
    Why should we do this feature? Often city budgets can be difficult for the average reader to understand. Breaking down the budget into individual budget lines or by department will help readers better understand how their tax dollars are being spent.
    How is it used? Look through the city budget to find individual line items of interest. For example, a newspaper might find a miscellaneous supplies line that is greater than other individual lines in the section of a department budget. This feature would allow the newspaper to explain that budget line. Or this feature could be used to explain the amount of money a department is budgeted to use in a given year and how that money is spent.
    The content:
    • The number of the line item or budget.
    • Funding figure last year.
    • Total city budget.
    • Percent of total city budget.
    • Total department budget.
    • Percent of department budget.
    • Explanation about the line item or the department’s budget.
    • More information about the city budget can be found at the following links.
    4. Your Question Answered: A Q&A column from a staff member explaining reader concerns on community issues or how the newspaper handles issues.
    What is it? Your Question Answered is a public service journalism column presented in Q&A format by an editor or a reporter. The column could address a single reader concern relevant to a wider readership or a series of short questions and answers.
    What kind of content would go in the column? A reader may want to know what city hall is doing to conserve energy or what the police department pays per gallon for gasoline. Or they may be curious how their tax bill stacks up against someone in a similar home in the next town.
    Why should we do this feature? Readers aren’t just looking for a digest of news, sports and features. They want to be educated in fun and informative formats on topics that have puzzled them. The Your Questions Answered format accomplishes those goals.
    How is it used? Come up with a list of three or four possible topics based on questions residents have asked at meetings or recent topics that are being discussed in the commenting area of your Web site. Use those topics to get the feature going. There’s a callout in the template of the feature inviting readers to submit their questions to the writer of the column.
    Page 3 of 5 - The content:
    • A breakout box addressing the following:
    — The question
    — The answer
    — What it means to you
    • A Q&A answering the question in depth.
    5. Two Views: An opinion page feature where two people debate an issue.
    What is it? Two Views is an opinion page feature that highlights an issue in the news and presents in brief format the issue and arguments or views from two people supporting either side of the issue.
    Why should we do this feature? Allowing officials to explain their stance in their own words can offer more clarification for readers. And when that explanation is paired next to a different view, readers are offered the opportunity to make an educated decision on that topic.
    How is it used? Build a list of issues and solicit people in the community engaged in the issue to write a brief argument for or against. Provide those writing a word count — likely fewer than 100 words — and a deadline. Have a mug shot of each writer.
    The content:
    • The issue.
    • Argument for and argument against.
    • Short bio on the two arguing the issue.
    6. 'Eyesores' template
    What is it?
    Readers submit visible community problems such as dilapidated structures, and reporters research the problem using public records to find out who owns the property and what action is being taken to fix it or tear it down.
    Why should we do this feature
    The Eyesores feature allows the newspaper and its readers to form a partnership to clean up their town. Most newspapers will find that readers are more than happy to get involved in this way of improving their community.
    How do we get the feature going?
    Find a few eyesores yourselves to kick off the feature. You might even check with the city code workers in your town to see if they can suggest some places to start. Remember to create promotional online and print material to urge readers to report eyesores to you.
    The content:
    • Highlighting the problem.
    • Status of the problem.
    • What’s the next step to solving the problem.
    7. 'Fact Checker' template
    What is it?
    Reporters check the facts used by public figures to see if what they’re saying is true. This is especially useful during an election season. You can also use it to see if campaign promises are being met after an election is decided.
    Why should we do this feature?
    Page 4 of 5 - Our mission is to report the truth, and if we simply rely on someone else’s comments as truth, we’re missing an opportunity to dig deeper and offer our readers stronger stories.
    How do we get this feature going?
    After every city or county meeting, you can go through notes and circle research possibilities. Also, during political season you can keep a file of possibilities and add to it after every appearance by someone running for office.
    The content:
    • What was said.
    • Just the facts.
    • Response from the person who said it.
    8. 'Project Tracker' template
    What is it?
    Project Tracker gives you a quick way to check on the progress of a construction project managed by your city, county or school district. You may also find other types of projects you can follow.
    Why should we do this feature?
    Newspapers have always done stories on ongoing projects, especially when their progress (or lack of progress) comes up at a meeting being covered. Instead of doing a 15-inch story on an ongoing project, this alternative story format gives you a quick way of showing readers exactly what progress has been made.
    How do we get this feature going?
    You can note in an internal calendar significant points in a project. If a project will take two years to complete, you can check in every six months. Also, you can use your reports to your government as a chance to check on progress.
    The content:
    • What is the project?
    • When did construction start?
    • What is the total budget?
    • How is it being paid?
    • When will it be complete?
    • How much has been spent to date?
    • Is construction on track?
    • For more information.
    9. 'Follow-up' template
    What is it?
    For ongoing stories, reporters check in to report what’s going on with the story.
    Why should we do it?
    Instead of simply writing story after story about something important in your town, this format allows you to take a step back and sum up exactly what’s happened so far, what’s happening right now and what the next steps are. This offers readers perspective on a story that the day-to-day stories don’t provide. This also works for a story that hasn’t been in the news for a while but still doesn’t have resolution.
    How do we get this feature going?
    Scheduling is important so you remember to check in on stories that have been in the news for a while. You might consider a monthly update if the story is fast-moving, or a three- or six-month update for a slow-moving story. Put reminders on a calendar at these points so you remember to check on the story. This format can also be used for news that happens, such as a court case getting delayed or an action that happens at a meeting. Updates should have a public service angle to them.
    Page 5 of 5 - The content:
    • The issue.
    • Background.
    • What’s next?
    10. 'Your Government's Numbers' template
    What is it?
    Your Government’s Numbers template allows you to delve into a department of your government and explore it by looking at numbers that may include how much is budgeted, how many people work in the department and what that department does.
    Why should we do this feature?
    Your taxpayer dollars pay for government to run. This feature delves into specific areas of government to show readers how many people it takes to make the government run and exactly what they do. For example, how many miles of road does the county road department manage? How much of that road was repaired in the last budget year? What is the department’s budget? How many employees work in the department? Your newspaper is taking a microscope and showing how your government is managing each department.
    How do we get started?
    Check with your city and county governments to ask for lists of departments. You might also check the government’s annual report for much of this information. You can choose a department to highlight based on something newsworthy involving one of the departments or just go right through the list.
    The content:
    • Summary of the department.
    • By the numbers format.
    • How many employees?
    • Budget?
    • What they do, by the numbers.
    Click here to download the Quark version templates (4,6 and 7) and Indesign version templates (CS, CS2, CS3).

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