Writing is a creative process and sometimes it’s hard to get the juices flowing. That’s where ideas to make your story stand out come into play.
Here’s my list of ways to make your web stories shine with a little extra work. TV newsers, you can use your knowledge of these elements to tease to online content on air. Newspaper pros can also send readers online this way. I've linked examples throughout, so click away!
Storify lets you take tweets, YouTube videos, images and even Facebook comments to create your own timeline. You can add confirmed photos and tell a story with additional text. Here is an example from Charolette about a nasty line of thunderstorms. It’s a visual way to tell a story and also lets you pull information, videos, pictures from the places we can’t be. If you don't have time to aggregate, you can also embed public posts from Facebook and Twitter into your story with a quick copy/paste.
Posting Documents (Document Cloud, Scribd)
I love posting documents because it puts the non-believers in check. Of course, you can say “According to court records, the man jumped out of the car with a knife and asked for mustard.” Although, there are always skeptics that think you pulled that story out of your back pocket. Post those documents and find digital ways to make notes. For example, Document Cloud lets you highlight the important parts to either note in the full PDF or extract the HTML for that specific piece. Here’s a piece I wrote & Document Cloud’d up by taking excerpts and telling a story while providing documentation. You can also use Scribd to post documents.
Speaking of Document Cloud, meet Overview Project. This tool is awesome for those who have a lot of documents to sort through. Here’s an example from the beta tool’s website: “Wade had heard that the Tulsa Police Department had wasted millions of dollars on new squad car computers that didn’t work — and that there was an internal ethics investigation into the purchasing decision. He asked for the emails documenting the problems, and got them, all 7000 of them. He used Overview to find the half dozen that explained the story.”
Sometimes you need to provide your audience with proof. Just like embedding documents, there are ways to include audio recordings online. Audio clips can range from meeting conversations to music to podcasts.
If you can’t keep dates in a story straight, how do you expect your audience to keep everything in order? Some timelines can become a story, like these key moments in sports in 1994. Other timelines can just give the reader a visual look at a possibly complicated (or just drawn out) story. Timetoast is the kindergartener's version of a timeline. It looks pretty good and it’s very simple to use and modify. Timeline JS is a little more complicated, but really has movement online. Here’s a very easy how-to.
This tool lets you turn data into living and breathing maps and charts. All you have to do is create some sort of spreadsheet in Google Drive and merge it into a map or chart. It can even as simple as addresses of where to find a local newspaper. Here’s a how-to on making a map with certain photos and information on each location.
A GIF (GIF sounds like the beginning of Jiffy Lube) is an image format that people use to show looping video/photos. You may remember these little guys in the 90’s. Well, GIFs have turned a corner and can be used to showcase a photo with movement, like this story from Boston.com, or even an awesome sport moment. It’s sort of like a mini-video without pushing play.
You don’t have to only use a SOT (Sound On Tape) tease on-air. Export that puppy, throw it on YouTube and tweet/Facebook it! People will check it out throughout the day and hopefully remember to watch or look out for your story later.
GOOD raw video/interview
No one wants to see a boring Q&A between a public official and a voice from behind the camera. If the interview you did was insanely awesome, cut it up as short as possible for an extra web segment. It’s easily shareable and if it’s riveting enough, will spark some attention. Here’s some raw video of a court hearing. Sounds boring? Just watch.
Graphs are a super easy way to show and compare your numbers. Give your data girth and context. You can go from an easy chart to creating maps with color density to enhance your story.
WSJ’s Census Map Maker lets you see what kind of people live in a certain area via Google Maps. 45* Imagery on Google Maps lets you check out some cities at a 45 degree angle rather than right above it or right beside it (like Google Maps Street View). Remember, you can include a Street View snapshot into any web story.
My Congressional District
Check out this easy-to-use database, My Congressional District, letting you choose a state and district showing you Census stats on gender, age, race, ancestry and more within the area. Within that page, search the tabs above that let you pick and choose what data you need for your stories. In my experience, the Census PR people are very helpful and will try to find odd or unusual data for you if you get in touch with them.
A few of the best things about Vine are the ability to share a video quickly without a long uploading and processing ordeal and how the video can be played inside of Twitter without getting out of the app. The six-second video made straight from your phone can be one long shot or multiple short clips. (Remember to embed your Vine after your story’s done!)
Some stories are begging for a slideshow. With photojournalist jobs slashed left and right, reporters are becoming mini-photogs. If you’re writing a story about a protest and don’t include photos in your story, you can leave the reader out of the loop. If you’re an MMJ, use your iPhone to take photos and then screenshot clear images to upload from your b-roll. If you’re a lone reporter on a tight deadline, take out your iPhone take a few photos to tease your story immediately. Once you find your hook, tweet/Facebook again with another photo. Let your web editor know that you have a few shots to add online. (Trust me. They’ll be thankful.) A slideshow doesn’t need to be elaborate. Five good photos can take your reader/viewer to another level.
I like using Tumblr to discuss newsroom decisions and questions. For example, Breaking News uses Tumblr to take viewers inside of their newsroom to discuss what’s to come and explain some big ethical decisions in national news. It shows that, unlike some people think, journalists have ethical hurdles they must learn how to jump over.