Thursday, September 07, 2006
Speaking alternatively
It's time to speak up again on alternative story forms. An annual event such as a "state of the university" speech is a good candidate for this sort of treatment, and that's the way The News & Observer covered it, as seen here.

The news value of this speech was weak. UNC-Chapel Hill's chancellor said the university needs to bring in more grant money and improve graduation rates — the standard stuff. Still, this speech merits coverage even when no groundbreaking initiatives are at stake. The obligatory nature of this event is another reason that an alternative approach might be better. Do our readers really want to pore over a 35-paragraph recap of a speech? Here's a chance to experiment, an opportunity to try something different.

This N&O story is closer to the mark than the recent one on Duke football, as discussed here. The story has introductory text. (One of my colleagues, however, complained that it's too vague.) The themes are categorized clearly, allowing readers to find what they want to know from the speech, but the chancellor's quotes get lost. A boldface "key quote" in each item followed by his words would have helped. Also, the list of the chancellor's top goals may be overlooked in the lower left corner of the package. When working with alternative formats, editors and designers need to collaborate to make sure that doesn't happen.

The rival Herald-Sun ran a traditional story that worked fine but felt like every other speech recap ever written. The Daily Tar Heel, the campus paper, took a middle ground, with a straight-ahead story accompanied by a textbox highlighting the most frequently used words from the speech. "Great" led the list.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 2:51 PM | Permalink |