Finding the best angle for your story is only one part of the puzzle: you must also choose a suitable format to present the narrative in. This is something worth considering carefully, and to help you on your way, here are some tips and suggestions to make your stories more engaging.

Every online journalist grapples with the essential question: why does one article succeed while another falls short? To unravel this mystery, proper analysis is crucial. At smartocto, we believe that there are three key elements:

topics, user needs, and formats (assuming that quality is a given).

Tag three things: topics, user needs, formats

We've already discussed user needs extensively on this site, so now’s the time to focus on one of the other aspects. And no, we won't delve deeply into topics. We think that the subject should primarily be determined by the journalist. You should know better than anyone what an important topic is for your visitors, what resonates with your target audience, and why it’s essential for them to read about X or Y.

So, assuming you know which topic you'll be tackling and which need you want to fulfill (know, understand, feel, or do), you should focus on the format.

What is a format?

A format encompasses various storytelling styles, such as news updates, explainers, features, interviews, investigations, analyses, opinion pieces, and profiles. A format primarily defines the structure and presentation of the text or item and is distinct from the angle.

For instance:

  • You're writing a story about the wildfires in Greece. That's the topic.
  • You want to know if tourists have a safe haven. That's the angle.
  • You want to evoke emotions in the reader/visitor. That's the user need you’re addressing.
  • The best way to achieve that is through a reportage format. That's the format.

What doesn't count as a format? Video. As we see it, it is not a format but rather a content type like audio, text, or images.

The Reuters Institute of Journalism states that by using certain formats, newsbrands could help themselves alleviate the problem of news avoidance – particularly concerning important but often disheartening topics like Ukraine and climate change. Publishers say they plan to counter news avoidance with explainer content (94%) or Q&A formats (87%). Formats are more than just a practical consideration - they could influence your strategy for generating higher engagement too.

Challenges in format execution

Editors face a few challenges when choosing a format:

  1. Sections or columns may already determine the format. Your organisation might have a daily section like "5 questions about" (Q&A format), which will still need to be filled in, for example. This can lead to a mere exercise in filling in the blanks - is this contributing to your newsroom’s authority, or becoming a box-checking exercise?
  2. Writing formats in particular can get mixed up. A news article may have elements of a report, or reactions that lean towards analysis. While it might feel more complete, the reader may become confused about the intended purpose of the piece.
  3. There's a tendency to rely on the same formats repeatedly. Can you list more than ten formats? There are certainly more, but you might be inclined to choose the same ones repeatedly.

To address these problems, smartocto has created a deck of helpful format cards. You can use them to better understand the power of each format and also as inspiration for creating more engaging content.

Here's an example of a format card:

How to pick the best format

Whenever a topic enters the newsroom, you have an opportunity to use these cards to come up with the best possible story. Answer these questions:

  • Have I checked all the format possibilities?
  • Does one certain format fit best to the user need I’d like to fulfill?
  • Are the necessary sources available to provide this format with proper content?

Here's an example of how to use them. Let's say you know an expert who has a well-defined opinion about a specific topic. The story you could create might emphasise the ‘Understand’ part (because there are multiple sides to the news event or topic). Since you have an expert to talk with, you could decide to use the interview format. The expert can explain the various stances on the topic and how the pros and cons can be examined. This format will help your audience form a better standpoint on the topic.

Sometimes, you could be overwhelmed by visual material from a particular event. You might think, "I'm going to write a fantastic article about this," but perhaps a picture gallery would suffice. In your daily work, you may not always consider this option, especially if you're used to writing long articles. The format cards help you broaden your perspective.

We're giving them away for free if you leave your details. Good luck!