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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

300 Words, One in 8 Million exemplify power in brevity

The great thing about teaching an online news writing class are all the links I accumulate by the end. A student reminded me of a fantastic St. Petersburg Times project, and I couldn’t help but make the link to an ongoing New York Times multimedia effort. What both pieces demonstrate is that in the online landscape, a few words and images can make a huge difference.

First, I remember reading Brady Dennis‘ first pieces that he called 300 Words in graduate school, but I didn’t realize how effectively they teach students the power of journalism until this summer. In an interview with Poynter Institute, Dennis said ┬áhe wrote short because he had to, but even in 300 words, it’s vital to have a central issue or theme.

I believe no matter how long or short the story, people should know why it is important and worth their time. It’s not enough just to paint a pretty picture. We must strive to tell them something about the world that matters, to be journalists and not simply storytellers. Hopefully, in a non-traditional way, “300 Words” does that.

This is something I emphasize to news writing students over and over again. It’s what makes journalism different from other forms of writing. Journalism makes a point, and it makes it quickly. I can’t tell you how many rough drafts I’ve read where I’ve told students to move the nut graph from the bottom to the top.

The other thing Dennis excels at is his attention to detail. Just as students struggle to get to the point, they always want to try to summarize for the reader. They’re afraid to let the facts stand for themselves. Dennis isn’t, and I appreciate that.

The genesis of the idea came from Charles Kuralt, Dennis told Poynter, and I know what he means. I loved watching Sunday Morning with my dad before church. As much as I also loved 60 Minutes, I think I realized even then that my journalism career would take me to more 100-year-old person birthday parties than federal government investigations.

I’m glad to see the New York Times pick up the personal profile torch and carry to the next generation. The One in 8 Million interactive piece has been profiling New Yorkers since at least 2009. I haven’t gotten through them all yet, but I plan to incorporate them in my news writing classes along with 300 Words. They display the same strength in brevity.

PhotoCredit: My screen capture of a One in 8 Million profile.

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