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Best way to teach nut graphs?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by housejd, Aug 20, 2008.

  1. housejd

    housejd Member

    For the past year working as an editor at my college shop, I've been trying to stress nut graphs to younger reporters and editors. Some of them catch on pretty quickly, others not.

    While I know not every story needs a nut graph per se, many of our stories do, and I find that we don't have them 50 percent of the time. In the past, it's caused frustration when I continually send stories back to editors or reporters because they lack a nut graph.

    What I'm trying to do now is put together something for a seminar of types on nut graphs. I'm curious what everyone has to say about the best ways to teach nut graphs.

    Through editing stories, I've usually played the "this is the graph that essentially tells what the story is about, the 'so what' graph" card. If it's a story based around statistics of any kind, I ask if there's been any changes from year to year, any new trends. All fodder for nut graphs, I'll tell reporters or editors.

    I've tried using the angle of "Well, if a reader reads this story, we need a graph or two or three that will really sum up the essence of the story." Sometimes that works.

    I realize that sometimes using those types of ways to teach is really abstract, so I'd like to do something more concrete in this seminar.

    To me, when a story lacks a clear nut graph, it almost always represents some sort of flaw in the reporting, and sometimes, I don't even know how a reporter can write a story without one most times. I think teaching them nut graphs will only help them in their reporting. In turn, clearer nut graphs will make it easier for our desk to write headlines, especially on deadline. And I won't have to spend nearly as much time sending stuff back and forth between editors and reporters.

    What are everyone's thoughts? Any advice/insight would be greatly appreciated.

  2. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I try to be pretty patient with most of the people who write for my paper. Having said that, if there's nothing in a story that tells me what it's about or why a reader should care, I might send it back and say "now tell me why a reader should care about this story."

    I'd really try to take it from a reader's point of view. If it's a story that most of your readership normally wouldn't read, there should be something in there that draws a reader in.
  3. 2muchcoffeeman

    2muchcoffeeman Active Member

    :'( :-\ :-X *facehand*

    Nut grafs, son. Graphs are for math and statistics.

    But you're on the right track with nut grafs.

    (f_t, I'm impressed. I got tripped up by the subject line.)
  4. Drip

    Drip Active Member

    In rare exceptions, every story needs a nut graf. I think your explanation is fine.
  5. 'Why is this story important to me, the reader?'
  6. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    In 25 words or less.
    If you can't do it in that, there's a problem.
  7. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

    I obviously learned what a nut graf was early on, but I've never actually sat down and said, welp, got my lead now lets sure I make my nut graf next.

    I always stick to the inverted pyramid, which is natural and easy and I've never had a problem.

    Okay, rant over.
  8. housejd

    housejd Member

    Nut grafs. I apologize lol. Thanks for the advice.
  9. housejd

    housejd Member

    To me, learning nut grafs was made easier by the fact I started out in sports, I think. In sportswriting, I think there's much more distinction between what is a lede and what is nut graf in many cases.

    When writing my gamers, I'd always lede with something that had popped out to me in the game. Maybe it was two players goofing off on the bench because their team had such a huge lead or one player celebrating after a record-setting goal in soccer.

    Then I'd always follow it up with the nut graf, not that I always knew what I was essentially writing was the nut graf. But I'd always think "What does this game mean in the grand scheme? Did it knock a team out of first? Did it break a season-long losing streak? What does this game mean?"

    Following that sort of formula, I think it was just engrained in my writing style.

    Now that I'm on the news side, where we get more hard news writing, I'm finding those reporters don't necessarily have that engrained in their minds at a young age. Am I making a generalization that's out of line or is there something to sports writing that can be used to really teach nut grafs just by the basic way a story is structured?
  10. I'm not going to pretend that writing nutgrafs is harder on the news side, because I haven't written much sports. But one theory might be that there are more stories on the news side that don't have a clear nutgraf. They just are what they are.

    I imagine it's kind of like a game between the last place team and second-to-last place team after they've been eliminated from the playoffs. I imagine that's a little more difficult to write a nutgraf for. Some sports departments might not even cover it.

    There's lots of news stories like that that you do get stuck covering. Once you've been around a while, you learn how to make some of those a little more newsworthy. But some are what they are.

    The only time I truly struggle with a nutgraf is on stories where everyone involved is downplaying the relevance of what you're writing about. "Oh, don't worry, that $1 million missing from our bank account will turn up." Obviously that story raises questions about how they manage their money, but are you editorializing if no one is willing to say that?
  11. zeke12

    zeke12 Guest

    So, just tell them Twitter length?
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