Snow Fall: A Reader’s Guide

When “Snow Fall” was released in December of 2012, John Branch’s feature caught the attention of digital journalists – both reporters and designers – as groundbreaking work. Indeed, the piece won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, though the win was likely not just for Branch’s extensive reporting and storytelling, but also the innovative ways in which the story was told online.

Before “Snow Fall,” feature stories on the Web were largely confined to the template structure to which websites conform their content. In other words, the 500-word story from an NBA game would have the exact same look and feel as a 3,000-word Sunday centerpiece story that runs in the newspaper. In the newspaper, though, the designers would start from scratch each day, confined only to the signature design elements of the newspaper’s nameplate. The rest of the page was theirs to play with, giving them freedom to develop a look and feel specific to the piece. The online version, however, offered little freedom to customize. Any photos, videos and infographics had to be squeezed into the space allotted within the site’s templates.

Also, multimedia has often felt disjointed in reporting. Videos were often either significant productions that lasted several minutes and could be considered standalone content, or they were hastily shot and produced shorts with little B-roll, mediocre photography and passable audio.

But when “Snow Fall” came out, it challenged each of those practices in three key ways.Read More »

Video Assignment Walkthrough

Because we had so much to cover on video editing and using Adobe Premiere in such a short period of time, I recorded this walkthrough using Adobe Premiere Creative Cloud 2019, which you can download from IUWare. This should cover all the basics for your two video assignments, including importing videos, explaining the different frames in the editing browser, using the timeline, creating a lower-thirds frame, using video effects, rendering the video and exporting. Still, if you have any questions this video doesn’t address, just email me to address them.Read More »

Five basic video shots to make your B-roll impactful

This week, we started talking about video and how to create visual multimedia stories that are impactful. The biggest difference between the podcast assignment you’ll do and your two video assignments is the need to cover up your interview with B-roll. If you’re not familiar, B-roll is the cutaway to visuals that illustrate what the person on the video is talking about. You can expect to shoot a LOT of B-roll for this project, because one of the rules of B-roll is that each clip should last no longer than three to five seconds. That means you could have 20 different B-roll shots in a 90-second video you produce.

That’s a lot of different scenes, and in most cases, people end up shooting a lot of the same stuff and creating a video that is visually boring. And that’s one of the important things to learn about B-roll: Variety of shots is key. You need to take wide shots to show the viewer what is going on, close-up shots of what the person you’re featuring is doing, shots that show what they’re looking at, and shots that provide detail to the story. And you need to place these shots in a sequence that is logical and helps tell the story. You need to keep your viewer’s eye entertained throughout the video so the viewer won’t lose interest. Only then might they take in the information you’re communicating. To get that variety in your video, I pass along what was the easiest, and most helpful, tip I learned about creating videos: The five basic shots to make B-roll impactful. You can use these shots in pretty much any order once you’ve established the scene to your viewer.Read More »

An interesting read on fake news

Since we’ve recently been focusing on social media and the proper way to handle news reporting in that medium, I wanted to share this story from the New Yorker — “How We Solved Fake News the First Time” — that puts the relatively recent phenomenon of fake news in perspective. As I discussed in class, this isn’t the first time the world has dealt with fake news, and the fallout from the last severe outbreak resulted in the establishment of many of the journalistic principles we live by today. The parallels are eerie. Just consider this quote from the story.Read More »

Twitter analysis: Zak Keefer

Tweeting live from a game has essentially replaced the traditional game story in a beat reporter’s arsenal. Readers don’t wait anymore to find out the details of a game. They pull the stats from an app or follow the game through reports on Twitter. Often times, they do this while watching the game in front of them.

Because of that, a good reporter uses Twitter to give their followers more than just the basic play-by-play. They take them behind the scenes to see the things a fan can’t see on television, and give them extra meaning behind the key plays to help fans understand the significance of important developments, the meaning behind personnel moves and the historical perspective behind trends.

The key: Be the color commentator on your Twitter feed, not the play-by-play guy. Here is a breakdown of The Athletic’s Colts reporter Zak Keefer’s Twitter feed from last weekend’s game against Atlanta.

Read More »

Enhancing your analysis with video

For your assignment this week, you are going to write an analysis from a sports event and enhance it with video clips to help illustrate your stories. New features for online video provide all sorts of versatility for adding multimedia to stories, even when you haven’t shot it. You can grab video highlights that other companies, teams or even fans have posted, and even set the video to start at a certain point where it’s most relevant to your content.

To do this, you only need to know the simple steps for embedding YouTube video into your blog. Follow these simple steps to embed it.Read More »

The importance of identifying your audience

Online Audience

Early in this class we’ve focused on the importance of understanding who your audience is and giving them the type of news and information they’re looking for. The online audience is different from what journalism experienced during the newspaper era because, rather than looking at audiences in general terms, we need to look at the specific interests and habits of our readers and develop news that is unique compared to the heavy competition you may face on your beat. Almost all topics these days will have multiple sources that readers can go to for information. The better you understand who your audience is and what it wants, the better chance you’ll have of being their go-to source for news.

The best way to get to know your audience is to think of them using the same five W’s we use to develop ledes to stories: Who, what, when, where and why.Read More »

10 online story types that grab readers’ attention

When you’re writing for a digital audience, you want to consider using different story types that help get the information your readers are looking for quickly in a way that is easy for them to scan and determine the value it provides to them. Remember, online readers are finicky when they’re determining whether stories are worth their time. They’re bombarded by information all the time, so they make quick determinations about whether content is worth spending their time on. Using different types of story formats can make your content easier to scan, appeal to more than one audience, entertain readers, enlighten them or provide information in a more direct format.

There are literally dozens of ways to do this, but here are 10 effective story types and an explanation for when you should consider using them. (Click the links for specific examples).

The news story The traditional news story still has plenty of vitality in the digital world, though you’ll want to think through how you use it. A traditional story with a lede, a nut graph and supporting information can easily overload  readers if it’s too long or too dense. Try using it to break news updates, and consider following up using other story types. Keep it short, focused and to the point. Hyperlink to additional details.

Analysis These are fact-based examinations that maintain a measure of objectivity while giving readers a sense of what the facts mean in a broader picture. These are an effective follow-up to news stories to help readers understand the significance of the news. While a news or game story typically focuses on what happens, an analysis should help answer the question of why it happened.

Opinion This is a subjective viewpoint on an event, like a traditional column. They add color to the news and fuel debate.

Listicle – These are a versatile story type that can be used in a variety of situations. It’s simply a list of reasons, ideas, products, statements — really anything — that is tied together by a single theme. For example: “10 online story types that grab readers’ attention.”

Rebuttal – In this type of story, the writer takes issue with another published post and responds to it in a public way. This can be a response to another media report, a social media post, or a statement from a public official. It is typically an opinion piece, but a reply to a specific statement.

Roundup These can be an effective way of serving readers a variety of content from a single source on your site. Often used during breaking news events, the roundup pulls together stories from multiple outlets or social media posts from other reporters to aggregate news on a single topic.

Behind the scenes These can provide additional context to another story by providing first-person details about the reporting involved or the reporter’s personal experience, detailing an event a reporter witnessed or providing transparency in reporting by posting documents, interview recordings or photos.

Interview Sometimes, rather than write a narrative story, posting what is essentially a transcript of an interview as a Q&A with someone of interest to your audience can be effective. This is particularly useful when an interview is controversial because it can neutralize claims of quoting out of context.

Explanatory This is essentially a combination of analytical and news writing. In this type of blog, you explain how something works, or how something happened, to your readers. This could be breaking down a game-winning play, a trend that has become a key to a team’s season, a video analysis of a player’s struggles, etc.

FAQ In this story type, you break down an issue or news event with a series of questions followed by answers from the reporter. The questions merely act as a way to organize the information in the form of answers.

Intro to posting on WordPress

Your first assignment for this class requires you to post a brief biography of yourself to your WordPress blog as a “page” on your website. The assignment is a simple one intended mostly to introduce you to posting to your blog, but also to help us spot any problems before we get too deep into the semester. The basic instructions for this assignment are:

  • Keep it less than 500 words;
  • Name the page “About” followed by your name. Look at our class blog and you’ll see my about page is “About Brian Hendrickson.” Yours should look the same.
  • Explain why you’re in this graduate program, and what you’d like to achieve as a result of the program after graduation.

The post should be posted as a “page” on your site, which may be confusing if you’re not familiar with WordPress. The difference between a “page” and a “blog” post in WordPress is that pages are parts of your website that are static — they stay in the same place, and the information is intended to not change frequently. All websites are made up of similar relationships, though it can change. Pages on websites tend to be evergreen content that provides basic information. On our class blog, the tabs at the top of the page that say “About Brian Hendrickson,” “Syllabus,” “Readings” and “Student Blogs” are all pages. But pages take on many forms on the web, all serving similar purposes. For example, a page might provide the structure to organize content on a certain theme, such as the NFL “page” on The “blog” on the site, then, is the content that is continually changing and being updated to keep the site timely. On our site, the blog is this post you are currently reading. But on that same ESPN NFL page, the “blog” content would simply be the latest NFL news that changes as news develops. So on this assignment, you are going to create a “page” on your site that tells us about the site’s author — you.Read More »