Alma Washington October 7, 2017

From chat bots to newsletters to ethics, ONA Table Talks were packed with conference attendees who discussed some of the hottest topics in journalism on Friday.

Up for discussion at one table: ways to break out of the article format in their newsrooms. Here are a few takeaways from the discussion.

A text article doesn’t have to be the default
Visual story components often feel like mere add-ons to articles, rather than fully fleshed out pieces that can stand on their own. An article is a default in the newsroom, which means that any charts, visualizations, Snapchat or Instagram stories, have to be justified. Instead of making the article the base of your story, put it in your possibilities bucket along with everything else. Think about whether a story would work as an article or something else, instead of just using visual components as an add-on. Experiment with ways to make innovative storytelling techniques stand on their own.

Thinking visually
Journalists who are not accustomed to it may need to be taught how to think visually .. Even in breaking news situations, stopping to think about the various ways information can be presented before jumping into a story can yield results. It can be helpful to provide the newsroom with resources and examples of how to add visual components to their work. Emily Clark of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation shared that her newsroom has a catalog of different story formats for anyone to look through. The Online News Awards finalists list is an excellent place to start looking for inspiration as well.

Another suggestion was to pair reporters with designers and graphic developers, have them go through old stories together and see what visual potential there might have been.

Small newsrooms can do it too
In small newsrooms with only one or two developers, it can be hard to produce content that’s on par with newsrooms that have teams dedicated solely to visual storytelling. That doesn’t mean that innovative stories can’t be done. There are a variety of tools on the internet that journalists can use. Tableau is a program that makes creating charts and data visualizations accessible to anyone, and the KnightLab has various storytelling tools that are simple to use.

Small newsrooms can also use their limited resources to their advantage. Ally Levine, a data visualization intern at the LA Times mentioned that a designer and developer on their team created templates for reporters to use. Have one person work on creating resources that can be used across the newsroom.