Making a case for Ukraine on the front page

Earlier today, I posted this on Twitter: “Wondering what it will take to get Ukraine on the front page of US newspapers.”

That Tweet generated several responses:

  • “A visit from Miley.”
  • “Put a celebrity on a plane.”
  • “For it to be moved to Florida or somehow incorporate sports?”
  • “A time machine back, to say, 1975.”

That last response was from John Robinson, a friend and former colleague from my days at the Greensboro News & Record. He went on to say that American readers would be unlikely to read stories about unrest in a faraway country. Besides, coverage of international news is available on TV and online. Seeing those stories on the front page is a thing of the past.

I agree with Robinson to an extent. I do not believe that readers want to read inverted-pyramid stories about Ukraine’s protests and politics, and I am not suggesting that U.S. newspapers publish those stories on their front pages. But I do think that many people have a curiosity and concern about the world, not just their communities. I saw that this morning when I noticed that “Ukraine” was a trending topic on Twitter in Raleigh, N.C.

The situation in Ukraine appears to be at a boiling point today, with dozens of people killed on the streets of Kiev. But why?

That’s where newspapers (in print, but also on their websites and apps) can step up to provide context and background. How about we use today’s events as a news peg to publish a deeper explanation of what’s happening there? Write and edit an alternative story form (like this one from the BBC) to provide context and background to the images that people may be seeing on TV and in slideshows. Include a map and other visual elements. Give readers the big picture, like Charles Apple does with his focus pages in the Orange County Register.

It will take more than a standalone photo or an Associated Press wire story to adequately tell the Ukraine story on the front page. It will require a thoughtful approach that explains the situation there and goes beyond the daily developments. I hope some U.S. newspapers will rise to the occasion.

UPDATE: Apple joins this conversation on his blog: “Once a reader’s curiosity has been sparked, there’s no telling what can happen.”

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