The nut graf is another lifeline to the reader

We’ve talked a lot this semester about keeping the reader reading. We’ve talked about it in the context of leads, presentation (writing “scanner” stories with subheads and bullets and maybe even more bold face) and general clarity. The lost reader wanders off the page.

When we talk about nut grafs and billboards (the term magazine writers and editors sometimes use for the nut graf in longer form articles) tomorrow in class, keep in mind why we’re talking about this part of the story: It keeps the reader in your story by doing him or her the courtesy of explaining where we’re headed. I like to know where I’m going.

It also gives the context for the story, the “this is important because” section.

I still like what Chip Scanlan had to say about nut grafs in this piece he wrote for Poynter. It’s a great summary. Please read it.

But I won’t insult your intelligence by spending a ton of time tomorrow asking you to find the nut graf in a news story. We’re pretty good at writing those at the Missourian and Vox. (They stand out — sometimes too much. Arguably, they’ve become almost too formulaic, and we have to be careful that we don’t suspend the effort to be interesting and engaging when we get to the boring old nut graf).

Instead, I want you to read this piece from the New York Times magazine about an old rock ‘n’ roller you may have heard of — Neil Young. Look at how the writer, David Carr, weaves the idea of the billboard into the first third of this story.

And then read the rest of the piece. It’s worth it. Believe me.

But first, listen to this.

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