ASFs in AJR

It’s nice to see alternative story forms (or “charticles,” if you must) getting some detailed attention in the latest American Journalism Review. This story provides a decent look at what newspapers are doing in this area, and it identifies pros and cons of alternative approaches.

I wish the story, however, had made more mention of the importance of collaboration in making ASFs work well. That’s a theme that runs throughout my NewsU course on the topic. It’s not all about design; all journalists can and should participate in the conception and execution of story forms. In addition, the role of the copy editor is overlooked. Not only can copy editors significantly improve the writing and presentation of a story form, they can generate ideas for them, as noted here.

Finally, the AJR piece makes this curious assertion:

Charticles rely on authoritative, punchy writing, leaving room for opinion to seep in. And when news and opinion mix under a reporter’s byline, well, you see where that could lead.

In my experience, the opposite is the case. Opinion is more likely to seep into a long-form narrative than an alternative story form. Punchy, authoritative writing is indeed an ingredient of story forms. This can be taken to an extreme, however, giving some ASFs a dry, almanac-like tone.

Of course, copy editors should guard against opinion words in any sort of news story, but the ASF is hardly a place where they proliferate. But copy editors also need to ensure that the writing is lively and interesting, regardless of the story form.

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