Contemplation upon organization

Last week, we talked about writing leads and nut grafs, and those are definitely focusing activities. But we haven’t talked much about focusing before reporting, or re-focusing after reporting (and before writing).

Tuesday, we’ll talk about finding a focus and organizing a text story around that focus.

Learning to focus before reporting will save you tons of time and angst (and is the best protection against editor outbursts like, “That’s not the story we talked about!”).

I like the six focusing questions Tom Huang at Poynter has come up with to produce better stories. Please read his column, and then think about a story you’ve worked on recently (or that you’re working on now), and try to be conscious of how you focused the story.

  • How much energy did you put into focusing before you reported?
  • What role did your editor play in that process?
  •  How did your focus change after you reported?

Next, critique this piece. Does it have a focus? How does the story’s organization contribute to that focus? Look at transitions. Do they strain? Or is there a natural flow from one part of the story to the other. Can you summarize what this story is about in just a few words?

Choose another story from a magazine or newspaper and analyze the focus and organization. Does the nut graf lay out accurately and completely what the story will say? Does it suggest a structure?

Send me a hyperlink to the story you choose and be prepared to talk about it in class on Tuesday. Dissect it. Mark it up. See if you can create an outline from it. Again, can you sum up in just a few words what it’s about?

That, you will soon learn (if you haven’t already) is a pretty good indicator of whether a story — even a very long one — is focused.

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