Covering anti-Semitism

In Design, IDS on December 6, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Biz Carson suggested we talk about how the IDS has covered the anti-Semitic events going on around campus. I’ll let her explain:

Which is better?

We’re always pushing for ASFs and graphics in the paper as a different way to tell a story. In the graphic, I tried to provide context to the attacks and also show the community’s response. The online story focuses on the events, incorporates more quotes and additional information about each incident, but is about 700 words.

What if the story had run in the paper? What if the graphic ran online? What is more effective at telling the story?

Here’s a link to her story. It starts like this:

More anti-Semitic incidents occurred during the weekend as Zeta Beta Tau’s mailbox was stolen, swastikas were found on a dry erase board in McNutt Quad and the president of Congregation Beth Shalom received a suspicious jar of jam on his porch.

Since Nov. 23, eight acts of vandalism targeted at the Bloomington Jewish community have been reported to Bloomington and IU police.

Here’s the graphic Biz made for the paper.


















My comment: What will readers spend time looking it? A story? An infographic? Both? On the bus this morning, I watched a girl read the paper. When she got to this page, she looked at the story and moved on. Then, she spent at least five minutes reading the infographic. Just one example of a reader interacting with our content.

Share your thoughts.

  1. Just a note: the last blue diamond on the graphic points to a pull-out explaining today’s “Bloomington Jewish Solidarity Day” and why people are wearing blue.

  2. Great question. As someone who’s always pushing for different story forms, we also don’t want to force that approach on stories that are better told in narrative form. And obviously, you can’t have an entire publication of alternative story forms. You need a balance. But how do you choose?
    I always try to let the information and story itself be the guide. Many stories are best told in narrative form, which provides structure, depth and lets you guide the reader along a specific path. The stories I think should be looked at for alternative forms are the ones that are more of a series of facts, that outline a process, that are based on numbers, that lend themselves to being broken up into pieces.
    This is an interesting case study and really shows how each approach has unique advantages.
    I think the lead on the traditional story here provides a much stronger hook. And as Biz says, the additional quotes and information are clear advantages.
    The strength of the graphic, or ASF, is in showing the sequence of events in a visual way that most readers will comprehend much more quickly. It takes that last part of the traditional story, where readers might drift away, and turns it into something much more appealing. And it delivers the information in a way that’s much easier to digest.
    One thing to remember: It doesn’t have to be an either-or choice. Again, let the story guide you on the best way to present it to readers. In this case, I think a combination approach would be the most ideal.
    Take the lead and top of that story and run it parallel to the graphic. So that you essentially have a mini-narrative. Perhaps the quotes stay attached to this piece, or maybe you break the quotes out into yet another “What they’re saying” kind of piece. Than you take the second part of the story and do exactly what you did with the chart, which was well executed.
    And while it’s true that you could simply run the entire story along with the graphic – and I generally don’t have a big problem with repeating info in the story because many folks will only read one version – by editing out the part that’s in the ASF and crafting a mini-narrative instead, it will look like less work for the reader and make it more likely they’ll choose to stop and read.
    My point is that it’s OK to mix and match approaches, depending on what makes sense for your story.

  3. I love the ASF. In fact, I read the ASF on the bus this morning and skipped the story all together. I completely agree with Paul’s point that mixing and matching is often the best solution, but how do we get reporters doing this? Biz is in the unique situation of being a hybrid reporter/designer, but had this story been assigned to a beat reporter, you probably would have gotten 700 words of narrative. There’s no argument that the ASF here is more effective, yet the only reason it happened was because Biz was in the driver’s seat.

    Personally, I think it has to come from the desk editors. Before crafting a pitch list full of “story” ideas, think of them as simply ideas. Then, suggest alternative story forms for those ideas to reporters. Certainly, as Paul says, some stories are best told in a narrative form, but some aren’t. If reporters were given the option of doing ASFs, I think they would. But, I also think that designers and editors need to come together to form an ASF guide listing every possible ASF the paper does. Then, make that guide available to reporters and say, “Look at the timeline template. Do the story in that style.” Or “look at the how to cover a speech template. Do the story in that style.” Or “do a traditional story.” Reporters need a guide on how to report these ASFs and designers need a guide on how to design them.

    My point may have gotten lost in that heated ramble, so here’s me trying to restate it concisely. The way a story is told best depends on the story. Figuring out how to tell that story best needs to be a collaboration between designers and desk editors and reporters. Designers and desk editors should create standard ASF styles for every possible ASF, make that guide available to reporters, and then assign stories and ASFs based on the style. Reporters should also collaborate with designers and desk editors because they are the ones actually covering things and have extremely valuable input on what will work and what won’t.

    This all benefits the reader because we’re giving them dynamic content, not just stories. It’s also more fun for designers.

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