You’re a reporter with multiple projects in the works, but you need to get an update out on a hot topic after a city council meeting. What’s the best way to do that, minding everything else on your calendar?

Condensing that info into an Alternative Story Form (ASF) continues to gain popularity in newsrooms as a means to provide meeting coverage, often as a way to cut the process down time-wise, but also as a better way to help readers understand and absorb information.

During a recent installment of the GateHouse Professional Development Series, Senior Director of Content Jean Hodges and Director of Creative Development Joe Greco offered some tips for creating and then implementing ASFs.

Hodges said this alternative makes sense because it hones in on the meeting’s biggest topic.

“Sometimes you go to a meeting and maybe there’s one thing you really want to update people on, and that’s it. You really just got a lot of background for other stories that you’re working on,” she said. “You really don’t need to do a big story, and you also don’t need to write a wrap-up on the whole meeting.”

Issue breakdowns

Often, issues will move slowly from meeting to meeting, and Hodges suggested using an ASF that focuses quickly on background concerning the issue, any action taken at the meeting and what to look for in the future.

“Let’s say it’s an incremental change. It didn’t move far ahead, they talked about it for a couple minutes. (They’ll) just send it back to committee.”

In that case, using a format like this template would allow you to quickly update readers:

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 1.45.53 PM

Tailored for small screens

Also, the piece would be ideal for mobile, something Hodges stresses when she’s talking to newsrooms.

“If you present something in an alternative form, you’re helping to guide and propel people through the stories, even just in text. What we’ve done before isn’t tailored for that small screen,” Hodges said. “We need to approach the stories in a different way.”

Working with designers

If you have something more comprehensive for an ASF, make sure to get that information to designers in advance.

“Any designer is going to want some lead time for a highly designed package,” Hodges said.

Although Hodges doesn’t advocate against meeting roundup ASFs, she said they should be used sparingly.

“Sometimes you can do a five things to know about a meeting, but I think each issue is important,” she said.

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