Returning from the rewarding EyeTrack seminar at Poynter, I find myself again contemplating what works and what doesn't when it comes to alternative story forms — and just what is an alternative story form.
Here's an example from The News & Observer's front page. (To get a better view, try the .pdf that's available on the paper's site, or click on the image here.) Most journalists would agree that this "traffic misery" story is being told in an alternative format. Let's assess:
— It's a great idea to tell this "report" story as an ASF. The news matches the form.
— The main image is strong and manages to catch the eye even though we have seen this type of photograph before.
— The presentation is effective; the story is easy to follow and understand. The placement and "square footage" on the page indicate that the N&O thinks this story is worth spending some time with.
— I found myself looking for a graf or two of intro text to tell me what I am looking at and why it's a front-page story. Headline text alone can't do this.
— I asked myself: "OK. Says who?" A "methodology" textbox on the Texas Transportation Institute and its authority on traffic in North Carolina would be handy.
— The smaller, "iconic" images are OK, but the dollars coming out of the gas container are a little over the top.
— The numbers need more context in some cases. Is "commuter time in congestion" a measurement by year, by month or by week? This is often a hazard of the "big numbers" approach — the numbers become mere numbers detached from their reality.
CONCLUSION: This is a good effort that could have been better with another round of polish and editing. The idea is ahead of the execution. Despite its faults, this is more engaging than 28 inches of gray, number-encumbered text under a headline that says "Report: Local traffic snarls worsen."
Related posts here and here.