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A free summer seminar for experienced high school journalism advisers

From the 23 teachers who attended this workshop in July 2019, we have included Solutions Journalism Story Ideas, other Story Ideas for a whole range of topics and Tech Examples of something they learned, many of these for data visualization, plus some resources anyone can use in the future for these topics.

How to Increase Engagement with Alternative Story Forms: A Guide

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

This question, posed by philosopher George Berkeley in his 1710 Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, has provided plenty of fodder for academic discussion through the years. Perhaps its popularity stems from its simple, yet profound, consideration of the complex, relationship between observation and perception.

These elements play key roles for the press as well, begging a follow-up question for the contemporary journalist to ask:

If you tell a powerful story and no one listens/reads/watches it, does it matter that you told it?

The Fourth Estate is tasked with a daunting challenge: not only is it charged with telling important stories that matter, but they must also tell those stories in a form that attracts readers and communicates that information in the most effective, engaging way possible. For publications that operate on several platforms, staffs much think about what is it going to look like as a print product, and then what is it going to look like online? Or in a broadcast setting>?

Whew. I get tired just thinking about it all. 

From Guttenberg’s printing press to the telegraph to the radio to Google Maps and Snapchat, the medium through which information travels is in constant flux, with new forms emerging as others die out. The front pages of yore, filled with dense columns of small text, contrast sharply with modern design that showcase a variety of visual tools to engage and hook readers. If no one reads it, what value does it have?  

The advent of graphic design tools for both print and digital media provide journalists with more options than ever before to create alternative story forms to engage audiences. 

Susan Zake, assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University, notes that readers want different speeds; print, for example, offers more time for readers to savor; online, often less so. 

Former editor, designer, and columnist Tim Harrower outlines his rationale for why alternative story forms (ASF’s) should get more game time in our publications in The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook

  • They carve up complicated material into bite-size chunks.
  • They offer attractive alternatives to basic text.
  • They let writers move key information to more visible spots.
  • They allow for flexibility 

In his book, he presents several alternate story forms that journalists can employ to effectively communicate with audiences, compiled here for reference.

Zake and scholastic journalism advisers discussed a variety of provided ASFs that journalists can utilize for storytelling during the 2019 CSJ Advanced Advising Workshop, including

For updated lists, sites like feature more comprehensive lists for journalists to see what’s out there or no longer in existence (RIP Narrable and Storify). 

Now, this is not to say that long-form journalism is dead; it’s not. Journalists, editors, and design teams have found success using innovative techniques and forms. A few examples of some publication’s killing it with long-form come to mind:

Truth be told, journalism content isn’t a one-size-fits-all product. However, while the means by which information arrives to citizens may change, the standards of journalism should remain in tact. If anything, the abundance of communication avenues make this commitment to truth and veracity even more important than ever before. Some things always remain in style. 

As part of my graduate coursework in journalism education through Kent State, I created the following handout to provide my journalism students with a visual reference for some of these alternative story forms. Click on it to get access to the Google Doc.

Have you worked with any of the alternative story forms noted here? Let me know how it went and share examples from your publication in comments section!


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  1. Great post, Stacy! May I add another ASF? One that we loved using this year was JuxtaposeJS. Here is an example:

    • This one is cool! I will add it to my list! I also like the timeline one with corresponding pictures. I hadn’t thought to use photographs with it- that makes me like it better.

  2. Fantastic work Stacy!

  3. A couple examples of juxtapose…

    At the bottom of this story about a girl’s adoption from China, she and her mom recreate one of the first photos of them together:

    A retiring teacher’s photo, then vs. now:

    The Knight Lab products (Timeline, Juxtapose, StoryMap,etc.) don’t require a login. However, for programs that do, I strongly suggest that you make sure students are creating accounts for your publication rather than individual accounts, or else you risk down the road of having the interactive element die without any recourse.

    • Thank you for providing such a nice list of tools that we can use in our classrooms. I also enjoyed and appreciated your effort in pointing out the importance of long form journalism, and the examples showing the phenomenal stories that journalists continue to find and tell. Great read!

  4. I’m interested in figuring out TikTok as well, and saw this list of resources on JEA Digital Media:

    • Me too! I had a few conversations with a couple girls at my school about this late last school year, and I’m hoping they’ll help us explore it. Thanks for the resource you linked!

  5. Nice post. Lots of value added info.

  6. Such a great job! I am so glad you compiled the tools in such a way!