A comment responding to this post about textboxes made a good point: Magazines have been doing that sort of thing longer (and often better) than most newspapers. Here are two magazines that newspapers can learn from:
1. Fast Company magazine routinely includes textboxes to accompany its stories. For example, an article about Web video in the latest issue comes with a list five famous bits of online comedy. Another story uses a “tale of the tape” textbox to compare Facebook and MySpace. Yet another has a “by the numbers” textbox that works because each number has a clear connection to the story and is presented in context. Some of these examples are available at the Fast Company site, but curiously, they look better in print.
2. ShopSmart magazine takes the alternative approach a step further. This magazine is essentially Consumer Reports “remixed” into alternative story forms. It uses forms such as the Q&A format, “by the numbers” and checklists to help readers learn about classic Consumer Reports topics such as how to get a deal on a credit card or how to buy a bra. ShopSmart offers .pdf versions of some stories at its site, but like Fast Company, the magazine works better in print.
Fast Company and ShopSmart provide good examples of how to do textboxes and free-standing alternative story forms. They are written well, edited well and designed well. Indeed, the content always guides the design — not vice versa. Newspapers would be wise to use these magazines as role models.
More about story forms here.