Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The how behind the what

Last night's Frontline on the banking crisis/bailout was classic storytelling.

In big news stories we usually write about what has happened, and the focus often is on the decisions that were made and then announced or acted upon (as in the case of an arrest, for example).

But if you can approach the story trying to tell how things happened, it opens up a whole new world of reporting and writing possibilities -- and not least, allows you to write a story in a way that can result in a whole new level of understanding of what you're writing about.

That's what Frontline does in its piece on the banking crisis. You follow the story hour by hour, decision by decision, and it's riveting -- and it tells you things you didn't know about what happened.

One way to think about it, in terms we're familiar with, is that there's the hard news story that we write when something breaks; and then there's the enterprise story or Sunday story that tells how it happened. (Check the left rail for "Snared, then saved" for a good example). And watch the Frontline piece online and think about a big story you've worked on that could be told this way.