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Storytelling tips and best practices

Tips for creating shareable, local content

Writing shareable local stories doesn’t have to be complicated.

The Local Stories Project shows that the tactics to create shareable stories cross state lines (all the way from Alaska to D.C.). We asked some of the current station editors involved with the project to share their tips.

Check out this Nieman Lab story for more information on the nine types of local stories that drive engagement. 

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Go with your gut

Think about that quick feeling you get when you first see something and think “Oh, cool,” KUNC’s Digital Media Manager Jim Hill said.

Ask these questions: “Would I want to read this story?” and “Why would I want to share this story?”

Example: Watch This: Take A Ride On Denver’s New Light Rail Line

Follow the online conversation

Know where to find and follow the conversation around news as it happens in your community to discover new angles to cover.

WBUR social media producer Nate Goldman uses this tactic in Boston to find interesting stories on sites such as Reddit, Facebook and Twitter.

One of his favorite examples is from a November election when he spotted a tweet from a local reporter saying the state told the reporter it was “illegal” to post a photo of his marked ballot.

“We did a little digging and, lo and behold, found EVERYONE (figuratively) was taking photos of their ballots and posting it on Twitter and Instagram,” Goldman said. “It ended up being a very fresh and fun angle to the election story, especially because we were just biding time until the polls closed.”

Example: That Photo Of Your Ballot You Posted On Social Media? It’s Against Mass. Law

Make it human

People react to emotion online. Try to find the human part of every story, St. Louis Public Radio web producer Kelsey Proud said.

“If it’s a really complicated topic or wonky in any way – find the person that is affected by it and focus on that,” Proud said. “People react to people – people remember people.”

Example: Mo. Legislators Received More Than $330,000 From Lobbyists In Two Months

Find the hook

Hone in on the most interesting part of the story, KPLU’s former Online Managing Editor Martha Kang said.

“I think the key is finding the hook—the thing that’s unique to the story, be it a great quote, a strange detail—and putting that hook front and center,” Kang said.

Example: Ever try pot? Answer yes, and U.S. won’t let you in — ever

Know your community

What are the topics and stories your community really cares about? Make sure to keep an eye on those, KTOO new media producer Heather Bryant said.

In Juneau, the two hugely shareable topics are citizens’ relationship with the government and stories about the great outdoors. The station uses Twitter lists to keep an eye on dedicated legislature tweeters — but they also make sure to put down social media and head outside.

Example: Kodiak-bound vessel lost 41 years ago, now found

Headlines and visuals are the trump card

Headlines and visuals are key, KUT online journalist Wells Dunbar pointed out.

“Headlines are important. Super important,” Dunbar said. He brainstorms headlines in a separate Word doc until he gets the perfect fit. And if a story doesn’t have a visual? Forget it.

“I’ve held stories until we’ve gotten the right art,” Dunbar said. “Much as the title can inform/direct a story, artwork can also direct the course of a story.”

Example: Why Was This Cake Decorated With a Zombie Ben Franklin Left on a Hyde Park Porch Overnight?


Teresa Gorman is a former member of the NPR Training Team.