How to choose which stories should be longform or enterprise
Not every story merits months of reporting and designing, and many newsrooms find themselves strapped for resources. These stories should be chosen strategically.
In the words of James Shiffer at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, choosing what stories get the enterprise treatment is ”an art, not a science,”
Here are some elements that make for a good longform or enterprise story, collected from interviews with several journalists:
- Narrative potential. Is there a narrative arc, with characters and tension? If not, you’re probably better off turning a daily report.
- Stories that provide a public service.
- Multimedia material. This isn’t always 100% necessary, but it’s certainly helpful. If you find a compelling story without multimedia material, there are ways to get creative.
- Cooperation between members of a team. This means everyone needs to have the time and resources to complete the story. The team must also be willing to communicate with one another.
How to execute the story
When planning out large enterprise pieces, journalists are fond of using metaphors.
“I imagine stories unfold almost like movies,” said Cheung of the Associated Press. “If you were to direct a movie and you have all these different ways of telling it — from text to video to photos to data to visualization — then you are the director of this story. How do you direct the story to create this narrative arc?”
That’s one way. Imagine yourself an artist, a creator.
Another way? Think pragmatically.
When Rupar began working on the Post’s politics iPad app in 2012, she revised her way of conceptualizing journalism.
“There’s an actual product that we’re putting together,” Rupar said, referring to enterprise pieces. “And I think that’s useful, working with developers and business-side people in terms of thinking about how the parts come together, how you think about scope and how you communicate.”
So, you have a story idea and you’ve pitched it to your editor. You’ve even sketched out a general plan. What’s next?
There are two operative words here: teamwork and communication. Remember: A longform story is no longer for the lone-wolf reporter.
[pullquote align=right]A longform story is no longer for the lone-wolf reporter.[/pullquote]
From the very beginning, different members of a team working on an enterprise piece should sit down together and sketch out a plan and timeline. The team could include: one reporter, or a few different reporters; an editor; designer; photographer and videographer; multimedia producer; social editor; and a copy editor. Granted, not every newsroom has someone in each of these roles. But even on a smaller team, (say, reporter, editor and photographer), a baseline meeting is important to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“It’s good to get into a habit of thinking about the business side, the presentation and the photo (and multimedia) from the germination of the story, the very beginning,” said Alex Zayas, enterprise editor at the Tampa Bay Times.
“If it’s a narrative piece of longform, you’re going to want a photographer that’s with the reporter,” she added. “If it’s a big data project, you’re already gonna want to know how you can make use of that data in terms of visualization.”
Create some means of communication, whether it’s a group chat or a Slack channel, to continue to inform each other about your progress and findings. And continue to have meetings with the entire team — once a week, once every two weeks — to stay on the same page.
According to Zayas, Tampa Bay Times reporters and editors working on a project meet formally once a week, though they still communicate every day. A photographer might be in on those weekly meetings, depending on how involved they are in the storytelling. But every few weeks or once a month, the entire team — reporter, editor, photographer, designers — all meet together.
How to signal readers that this is a major enterprise story
Unlike in print, differentiating major enterprise stories online has been challenging, particularly when sharing them on social media.
“A Facebook post on an investigation that took two months might not look any different than a Facebook post for a 400-word day turn,” said Joy Mayer, an engagement strategist. “We can’t expect that people will find, consume and appreciate it without issuing any specific invitation for that to happen.”
Mayer advises journalists to think about social promotion of major enterprise stories as a marketing campaign.
“Think about what commercial television does to promote an episode of Scandal versus the season premiere,” she said.
It’s true — a marketing campaign might start with a teaser trailer months in advance, and then different versions of that trailer leading up to the premiere release. There may be Q&As with the director or cast. In contrast, a normal episode might only have a 30-second preview spot.
So how does this translate to your enterprise piece?
Before the story is published
A social media push for larger stories is important, but newsrooms don’t always have to wait until the story drops to announce in on Twitter of Facebook. You can share it with previews or excerpts to increase anticipation amongst community members.
When the story is published
Presentation is vital. Consider setting the story apart by giving it its own landing page and with an original story design. Make it a prominent item in your newsletter. Indicate its enterprise status in the title; write “Special Report.” Believe it or not, some readers still visit homepages — display the story as a centerpiece above the digital fold.
After the story is published
After the story is published, it’s especially important to facilitate conversation.
This doesn’t have to be through the comments section. Consider your target audience, how they consume news and how they communicate.
If your target audience is younger, more digitally-minded, and has access to technology, think about:
- Twitter chats
- Responding to reader questions via Facebook Live
- Hosting a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything
- Recording a video interview with the reporter or photographer, allowing the journalists to take readers behind-the-scenes, so to speak
- Seeking out potential readers via niche Facebook groups or other online communities who may have a particular interest in the subject of your story
But other target audiences, such as low-income community members, might not have the resources to participate. Consider inviting them into the newsroom — chats with reporters, coffee with the editor — or physically take the story to them. Ask them for feedback.
Not every newsroom has the resources to hire a social media team that is able to manage these efforts, but this shouldn’t hinder sharing efforts. Indeed, reporters should think about facilitating conversation surrounding a news story as part of their job.
“When you’re thinking about how to allocate your time next week, it’s not just, ‘My project is over, and now I can move on,’” Mayer said. “It’s asking, ‘When can I schedule time to host conversation around this?’”
Long after the story is published
Because of the intense and fast news cycle, it’s easy for journalists to sometimes forget about the shelf life of a story.
“Say a big Sunday piece comes out on Sunday morning, and social posts go out for the unveiling of this big story,” Mayer said. “But by Tuesday we (journalists) think that people have lost interest in it. But the way people’s lives work outside of newsrooms, that’s not a long time.”
Think about the lifespan of a story, Mayer advises. If you write a piece about the school district for instance, you may initially publish it when a significant personnel change occurs — for instance, if the superintendent retires. But that story could still be valuable until the next school board election, which is six months away.
So, in that time frame, share the story whenever it is topical. Share it again at the beginning of the school year. Share it when the district is in the midst of finalizing its budget. And share it before the school board elections.
Enterprise reporting that values nuance and analysis over stenography remains important, perhaps moreso in a world where distractions are constantly vying for your readers’ attention. Your outlet needs to set itself apart from others and show readers value worth paying for. With smart planning, you can make sure the pieces with large investments have a large impact.