Teaching Examples

Making online journalism — Part 1
November 9, 2006, 2:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When you approach an online project, you have a lot of tools and opportunities at your disposal. How do you decide what to do, what to use, how to tell the story?

There are exactly five media types for you to consider:

How much will a person read on a Web page? Is there a limit? Maybe. My informal analyses have shown that a typical long-form print journalism story “switches gears” after 300-400 words, then again after 600-800, etc. (See my Web writing tips.)

Even one relevant, quality photo might make the story more interesting to the onlineuser. Don’t forget to get pictures! Standard mug shots are not interesting. Posed photo ops are not interesting. Make it big enough to see! (Tiny photos are hardly worth it!) Some online photos are saved improperly; this makes the file size over-large and the download slow. (Do gaudy ads on the page diminish the impact of the photo?)

Can you illustrate any part of the story? Can you use a geographical map? A diagram? A bar chart or pie chart to compare numbers? Users can understand better and faster when certain kinds of information are presented visually. Plan ahead and get the graphic artists involved early in your story. For each graphic opportunity, consider whether animation would help tell the story, and whether 3-D is warranted or practical.

If you can get people in your story to speak, the user will get more out of hearing their real voices. Let them tell their own story. It only takes a little practice to gather good audio. If the photographer can’t or won’t do it, then send someone else along. All reporters should invest in a decent, sturdy, omni-directional microphone, such as the Electro-Voice 635 series. Check out my page of audio links if all this is new to you.

When is video justified? When does it complement or enhance the story? Video always requires a big download. This is becoming much less burdensome as more people get broadband Internet connections, but most video online still makes the user wait. After the video begins to play, how long will the user sit and watch before getting a twitchy mouse finger? As online video becomes easier to produce, we are seeing more junk video on journalism Web sites. Don’t put up junk. (See a few more video tips.)

Everything you put online should be accurate, interesting, short and well edited.

Tomorrow: User interaction.

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