Friday, August 7, 2009

Building instructions

Pretty good story here in The Washington Post. It's about government spending and the Army and documents and contracts ... but it's a human story. It's a good one to look at for several reasons:

  • It has a solid, logical, clean structure that works -- and that we can use (and have used) here with investigative or other enterprise pieces: It starts, essentially, with a four-graf anecdote. Importantly, the anecdote sets the tone for the rest of the story, it isn't just a neat little scene that doesn't do any heavy lifting for the story.
  • Graf 5 introduces the characters, then hits you with the 'why this matters' sentence.
  • Grafs 6-8 are the nut grafs; they deliver the core news of the story and link it to the broader subject (government corruption).
  • Grafs 9-12 develop the nut graf and set up the main character's position.
  • Graf 13 loops back to start the forward motion of the human story: "They met in the spring of 2004 ...."
That's a fairly standard formula for how to structure a piece like this. But it's well worth using, because when done right, it really works. This writer used it to make this a human story about corruption, not a story about corruption that happened to have some human beings in it.