Strive for the “signature story.”
What are the characteristics of a “signature story” on NPR’s airwaves or website? The bullet points in this 2004 memo1 offer valuable guidance about producing in the field and how to put together the type of excellent pieces that NPR strives for, on air and online. Although this was originally written for show hosts and producers, its guidance is valuable for all reporters:
- Original reporting.
- A character or characters that the audience will care about or find compelling.
- NOT a “what happened” story or same-day reporting.
- Humanizes some social, economic or political issue.
- Provokes in the listener an “I didn’t know that” response, or “this is really interesting or really disturbing.”
- Has enduring importance.
- Exceptional writing.
- The host is clearly engaged and curious on the air [and now, online as well in our blogs].
- Reveals new information.
- Is ambitious and enterprising.
- Offers context and balance.
- Is deep and well told.
- Remains engaging from top to bottom.
- Takes you somewhere – a sense of place is established.
- There is action – real people doing real things.
- Something happens during the story and the details unfold.
- The host’s personality emerges and connects with the audience.
- Our host and reporter’s roles as rigorous journalists are evident.
- An intimacy occurs that is different than what happens in the studio. This is partly the way the interviews are mic’d in the field, and also something that occurs because of a different level of engagement between the host and the subject.
- The story is “sound rich” and textured. [And now, online it includes visuals and other "entry points" that enrich the experience.]
- The production values are extraordinary.
- It touches the head and the heart – and has emotional resonance.
- The “architecture” is strong. There’s a beginning, middle and end.
- The piece is cinematic.
- Source: Margaret Low Smith. [↩]
October 23, 2011