Digital Dialogue: Alternative Story Formats For Print and Digital

Digital Dialogue: Alternative Story Formats For Print and Digital

By: Jerry Burnes, Mesabi Daily News

Alternative story formats accomplish a few things: They provide newspapers a way out of the cut-and-dry story and give readers something new and attractive. The concept is that you can tell the same story in a way that invigorates both producer and subscriber.

In a lot of newsrooms, the conversation about alternative story formats generally goes to “Let’s do a video” or “Make that into a gallery.” Those are great, but in the form a lof of publications use them, are rudimentary compliments to the classic story structure.

Here’s a few alternative story formats — simple and complex — to help you think outside the box on certain stories.

Oral History
Sports websites love to use these for historical-type stories (see Michael Jordan and Vin Scully). The writer really just sets up the story, and then uses talking points to guide the story, using the words and memories of those involved. Remembering a significant moment or accomplishment or local disaster is good use of oral history. You can even localize big national events like 9/11 through the memories of people in your city.

There’s more technical work into podcasts, but smartphones are making the formal really relevant. Unlike videos, podcasts can be listened to while doing tasks around the house, driving, running, etc. And like videos, they can be complementary pieces or full stories. If a complex topic is discussed at city hall, it might not be prudent to squeeze all of that into a print story. But through a podcast, the writer can walk readers and listeners through what’s going on. There’s plenty of sites that host podcasts, iTunes is the most popular. Audacity is a free, open source audio editing software.

Point/Counterpoint or Pros/Cons
Often in a grid format, it lets readers compare two or more points of view. If the local sourcing is available, this format can also take up bipartisan space on the op-ed pages. In the pro/con version, this format can also be a way to break down complex debates with quick hits of information, like building a new school or raising taxes on a new building.

Virtual Reality
This is the “new” thing larger media organizations are starting to jump on. The idea here is, using 360-degree video technology (Samsung is the leader of this effort), you can take your audience to the story, right on their phone. The technology is pretty cool. The New York Times and The Associated Press are the most common users, but if you plan out when it can be used — and maybe recruit a sponsor — smaller publications can do these once a week or on special projects. Imagine, instead of a basic photo gallery online of the local parade, taking a 360 video that complete with audio, and allowing your reader to navigate their way around the parade. It’s interactive and emerging. It also costs some money. A camera will run you around $330 but comes with free editing software. A tablet or Android phone is also required until software is developed for Apple. You can also rent some of this equipment through if you’re just looking at a one-time special project.

Thank you to Jerry Burnes, Managing Editor, Mesabi Daily News, for submitting this content. Check back soon for new topics. Have a question you’d like answered or column idea? Email Dan Lind (