Monday, March 21, 2005

My proposal for GW package

Those of you who check by here semi-regularly know that I've been trying to figure out a new way of writing about complex subjects where the issue isn't breaking news but too much information. My immediate subject is global warming, and I spent most of last week reading, writing and doodling on it.

On Thursday and Friday I wound up writing individual ideas and questions on a stack of index cards, which I then arranged and rearranged on the table in the features department. From one of those arrangements came this idea, which I finished writing up this afternoon. Unfortunately there is nobody here I can really discuss this with today, so I'm going to post it instead.

Forgive the long blogpost.
(Addressed to my boss:)

After a bunch of reading, summarizing and organizing, I’ve been able to significantly refine my proposal for a global warming package.

I propose to drop narrative story structure altogether and to simply “grid it out,” as an executive making a decision might. Hence, the following:

1. A global warming cover package for the Health/Science section, April 18, with a full open page inside the section, preferably a color position. I could also offer some kind of “USA Today” 1A treatment to get people to the section, but it’s not necessary for what I propose.

2. The concept is “Global Warming: A user’s guide.” Instead of trying to make this material compelling by personalizing or localizing it, I intend to attract readers by creating a package that serves as an organizing, conceptualizing “tool” for each reader. This is based on my unproven theory that there is a hunger for anything that can help readers understand daunting, politicized, complex subjects.

3. The only narrative in the package would be a short introduction, which would orient readers to the package and how to use it.

4. The rest of the section front space for the story would be devoted to no-jump sidebars and graphics.

5. The inside page (it takes no jumps) should be turned on its side, as the “tool” aspect of the package is a spreadsheet that works best in a horizontal layout. Its structure:

A) Ten aspects of the global warming debate, presented in rows
B) These aspects are presented in five different columns: i) Pro; ii) Con; iii) Evaluation; iv) G2K (Good to Know); and v) Conclusions.
C) Notably, the final section, Conclusions, is left blank. The spreadsheet is literal a tool for people to use in systematically drawing their own conclusions from material.

6. The bottom of the inside page will be devoted to sidebars, glossaries and other ways of explaining concepts that are fundamental to understanding the subject. Each would include resources for further study. I have 11 subjects currently listed as meaningful material for explanation, but I consider that list flexible, capable of expanding or combining as necessary.

I’ve attached a draft of the pro/con/evaluation summaries based on my initial reading of the materials I’ve been collecting over the past year. Note that these summaries do not use numbers and statistics.

Since a single reporter is not objective, I propose that I submit my materials to multiple “experts” with various perspectives on the issue and take their comments into consideration before the final edit. My intent is to create objective materials, but not at the expense of artificial balance. Scientific arguments cannot be countered by non-scientific arguments, so to avoid creating a structure in which only scientists can be heard I’ve designed this format to include summaries of political and cultural critiques.


The draft summaries are fairly detailed. I'll send them out to anyone who wishes to review them.