Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Different ways of reflecting reality

by John Halverson

November 15, 2012

Alternative story forms have become a journalism buzz phrase.

It means there’s more than one way to tell a story or introduce a moment. More than the “who, what, where, when and why” taught in Journalism 101. Different than what newspapers have produced through the years. But not so different from other means of communication.

Sometimes it may be a chart or a graphic. Sometimes it’s a well-composed picture.

This page actually has four different forms, and there’s another on 1A.

There’s the Heller cartoon and the first-person story we feature each week by Sal Dimiceli, the man behind Time is Now.

At left is a “Phototorial” — an editorial opinion wrapped around a picture.

Below is a “sketch” — a writing form that goes back to Chekov. The idea of a sketch is that it doesn’t have to be about anything. There doesn’t need to be a news hook. It’s a moment put to words. In this case, it’s a very short profile of an interesting person. It’s the type of story we tell others over coffee or a glass of wine.

To quote Wikipedia: “A sketch story is a hybrid form. It may contain little or no plot, instead describing impressions of people or places. In the 19th Century, sketch stories were frequently published in magazines, before falling out of favor. Writers from Sherwood Anderson to John Updike used this form, often as a hybrid. In short, a sketch story aims at “suggestiveness rather than explicitness’ ”

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story using only six words: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” In that spirit, we’ll open our pages up to character sketches. No plot necessary. Just a slice of life put to words — very few words.

I was once told that a story had to be long to be worthy. Later, I came upon the Gettysburg address: 272 words.

So short isn’t necessarily bad.

Often I’ve thought journalists leave their best stories at the bar. After an edition comes out, they’ll meet their friends and talk about so-and-so. Those “sketches” get left at the bar and readers are often less for it.

Finally, on 1A, is a Question and Answer format. Sometimes we make things hard. We’ll interview someone and then turn their words into a story using our words. Sometimes it’s better to just let them have their say. In my way of thinking, it’s not an easy way out. It’s a very efficient alternative story form. What’s more, people love quotes. They love the real voice of another human being. Maybe it’s not crafted as well as a good journalist might craft it, but it’s real. Just like we enjoy books and movies based on reality, we like real people talking the way they usually talk.

Of course, giving someone full say isn’t always the best route either. The 1A story discussing the Geneva Theater project is a combination of a straight story and a Q&A. Some quotes were cut for space or style reasons, but most of it made it into print.

This gives the person answering the questions all the leeway they may want to express themselves. At the same time, the journalist cuts some of the fat to make it easier for the reader to swallow.

Finally, there’s the serial. Serials are stories, usually fiction, that continue from one edition to the next. They were popularized in movies, which often ended with a cliffhanger to keep you coming back to see the next episode. They were once a staple of newspapers. Don’t worry today. We’re not going to play Hemingway and put our ramblings into serial form. But never say never.