Alternative Story Forms – You don’t have to use the inverted pyramid every time

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 13, 2008 in Editing, Writing

By now you probably think I am obsessed with News University. The truth is, it’s a great resource.

I’m the kind of person who wants to learn more about my industry. I want to be more than good…I want to be great. A Web site like News University is great because, (1) it’s free, (2) it’s put together by industry professionals, (3) it’s interesting and interactive.

The first course I took through News U was “Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Creating Alternative Story Forms.” I really wish we had learned about these in my journalism class last fall. The inverted pyramid has its place and is important, but today’s audience needs more sometimes.

Types of Alternative Story Forms
(In the course, this is a cool table of elements/science graphic)
Also note that the explanations were not working for the standalone categories.


  • Interview
  • Breakdown
  • FAQ
  • Vingette
  • Grid
  • Comic Panels
  • Snapshot
  • How-to
  • Recap
  • Preview
  • Game
  • Bracket


  • Q&A – anticipates reader’s questions
  • Quiz – same as Q&A-anticipates reader’s questions
  • Timeline – focuses on the important moments
  • Calendar – itineraries
  • By the #’s – good for statistic heavy articles
  • Top lists – collects and organizes information


  • If you go – box telling how to participate in event, uses who, what, when, where
  • Tips – bulleted list giving advice
  • Pros and Cons – grid format, allows reader to compare
  • What’s next – adds a “forward-looking tone to your coverage”
  • Breakout – summarizes main point or details of story
  • Updates – lists latest developments, often used onlie
  • Characters – short bio containing the “role” a person in the story
  • Glossaries – list defining terms for complicated, jargon-filled stories
  • Story so far – textbox giving the the background information on the story – like a movie flashback
  • Bio box – can include the basics and sometimes trivia-type facts (favorite book, etc)

Several Great Examples of Alternative Story Forms

Read More About Alternative Storytelling

A Simple PDF About ASF’s with Examples

And through my Google search, I came across the blog of Andy Bechtel, the person who created this course.

On a final note, looking through this month’s “Allure,” I noticed several ASF’s.

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Getting the most from interviews

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 13, 2008 in Public Relations, Writing

Interviews seem to be a daily activity in my field. I generally prepare as many questions I can think of before even contacting the source. I like to be prepared.

For the past 30 minutes, I have been on an interactive course at News University. The course was pretty simplistic, but it served as a nice reminder of how I should conduct interviews. The course is simple enough for a junior high school student-and interactive enough to keep their attention span.

Here are a few interviewing tips I was reminded of through the course:

  • Be prepared. Figure out what you and your audience need to know before the interview.
  • Ask open-ended questions. You want them to give you an answer that tells the story, not a simple “yes” or “no.”
  • Be conversational. If you seem like you are interrogating them, their responses might not be what you are looking for.
  • Listen and be patient. If you cut your source off, you might here that great quote they were working towards.
  • Off the record. They say something great…and then tell you that it is “off the record.” Ask if you can use a specific part of the quote or try to otherwise convince them you need it, if it really is a necessary quote. Or, you can ask if you can use it “on background,” meaning you would define the Professor Joe as a university employee. It’s a win-win for you and the source. You get your quote and the source is unidentified.

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Ten tips to revising drafts for journalists and PR professionals

Posted by Rachel Esterline on Aug 13, 2008 in Editing, Freelancing, Public Relations, Writing

I recently completed a free online course called “Get Me Rewrite: The Craft of Revision” through News University. As a writer and a public relations professional, the course helped focus me for revisions.

No writer is perfect. How many different drafts do you go through when writing?

I usually go through two or three. It really depends on my deadline though. If time is of the essence, then I am less likely to rewrite several times.

Here are my tips for writers stemming from this course:

  1. Remember that you are revising to make your writing better—it doesn’t mean it was necessarily bad. Just because it isn’t bad, doesn’t mean it can’t be better.
  2. Print it out. There are so many blatant errors you miss just from looking at the draft on your computer screen.
  3. Read through it and just make little marks or circles where something doesn’t sound quite right. Don’t fix it right away. Keep reading and marking until the end. Then start making the changes. 
  4. Staring at a printed version and have no idea what to do? Set it aside and work on something else for awhile. 
  5. Read it aloud. If you trip over parts of your copy, you might want to rewrite it. 
  6. Look for passive voice and adverbs to edit. The course has a tool called Word Painter. It “paints” passive voice and adverbs for you. 
  7. Have someone else read it. A fresh set of eyes can give you new ideas.
  8. Try the course tool called “Sentence Tracker.” It will show you a graph of the length of your sentences and paragraphs. It helps show the pace and flow of your writing. 
  9. Take down the scaffolding, what the instructor describes as the words that help us get started writing. Go ahead and start your first draft with “This story is about…”, build onto the story and by the end you can start taking the scaffolding down. 
  10. Write tight. That’s actually a tip from Dan, but this course suggested using the 10 percent rule. Take your first draft and cut 10 percent.
“When I see a paragraph shrinking under my eyes like a strip of bacon in a skillet, I know I’m on the right track.”
—Peter DeVries

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