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Open Up The Story

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Dress for Professional Success

Taking Ag to the Next Level


Need a fresh way to look at your stories? Do you feel like you end up telling the same story over and over again? No longer!

CNN senior editor Jan Winburn provided fresh ideas about how to look at potential stories and shake up pre-conceived notions about what a “typical” story should be. Winburn walked a room-capacity audience at Ag Media Summit 2015 through 10 questions that will help writers of any ilk look at story-telling with new eyes.

Some of the questions a writer should ask themselves, as they look to tell the story BEYOND the obvious headline, are:

Who has the most at stake?
For example, a story about a contest may not always be about the winner. Winburn related the story of Nyasha, a young girl who took part in the National Oreo Cookie Stacking contest. Reporter Lisa Pollack was sent to interview the winner but found a compelling story in Nyasha, who wanted to win the competition in order to help her mother buy a house, so she could have a room of her own.

You can read Nyasha’s story here.

There’s not room here to summarize all of Winburn’s stories, but here are the rest of the questions she posed:

Where did it all begin?
Too many times stories are about conclusions. In many cases, examining the journey of the story makes for better content.

Can the news story be seen through the eyes of an ordinary person?
Her example was telling the story of the families of MAL 370 and how the fruitless search for the wreckage left victims’ families in limbo, unable to get closure or process what had happened to their loved ones.

Has the story been told incrementally?
Winburn used this example of a woman pulled from the rubble of the Haiti earthquake, after six days of being buried alive.

Other questions Winburn posed:
When a news story marks an ending, is there another story about to unfold?
Can the enduring issues of the day be seen in some sort of microcosm?
What could you find by heading in the opposite direction from the pack media?
Can you apply superlatives?
Where is it worth going deeper?
What are the headlines in your life?

Winburn concluded by sharing her “Storyteller’s Creed” with her audience:

“A good story oozes not breaks, it reveals not repeats. Be the reporter who zigs instead of zags. Seek to reveal the truth versus facts.”

Wise words indeed.

Writer’s note: You can find these and other writing and editing tips from Winburn by looking up CNN’s iReport Bootcamp online.



Open Up the Story: How to Zig when Others Zag (11 KB pdf)