Another communicator takes on the feature
Too many communicators married the inverted pyramid when they were 19, have made a lot of triangular babies and have remained monogamous for all these years. Problem is, the traditional news structure doesn’t work well with humans.
But Janelle Davis, for one, has started to flirt around with other structures. During my Catch Your Readers Master Class in April, the public relations strategist for the American Academy of Family Physicians rewrote a traditional news story into a feature. Here’s how she made over her piece:
|AAFP makes over a traditional news story|
|Element||Approach||Before: News||After: Feature|
|Lead||Show instead of tell for a feature lead.|
Grab reader attention with a lead that’s concrete, creative and provocative.
|The American Academy of Family Physicians is calling on food producers and the medical community to fight antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”||You’ve been there. It’s the day before an important meeting, and you feel a sore throat coming on. You get home that evening and it’s worse. Your head throbs like a bad ’80s bass line. Your eyes are fire engine red. You’d give just about anything to breathe through your nose. You call your doctor and beg for a pill — ANY pill — to make you feel better.|
|Background section||Give reader context before diving into the meat of the story. In this case, Janelle explained why this story is important now, in a sentence or two.|
Don’t lead with the background. We also call background the blah-blah-blah. So avoid the mistake too many people make of placing the background in the lead.
|Antibiotics have saved the lives of countless people around the world, but their overuse and misuse has led to the emergence of drug resistant bacteria. The consequences are dire. Every year, antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people nationwide and kill at least 23,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.||In many cases, that pill is an antibiotic. But unless your illness is caused by bacteria, an antibiotic won’t help — and it may even hurt. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2 million people in the United States are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and more than 23,000 die as a result.|
|Nut graph||After getting readers’ attention with a shiny object in the lead, tell them where you’re taking them in the nut graph.|
Summarize your key message in a sentence or two.
Let readers know what’s in it for them.
|You as a patient can help slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by not requesting antibiotics for viral illnesses, such as cold and flu.|
|Body||Here’s where you tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em. The brisker, the better.|
I love some of the colorful language here, like “the worst case of food poisoning you can imagine.”
I might have added two subheads to the rewrite: Why avoid antibiotics and How to avoid antibiotics.
|The AAFP recognizes inappropriate use of antibiotics as a risk to both personal and public health and encourages only the appropriate use of these medications. Several groups, specifically those in the medical and food production communities, have the power to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.|
“As family physicians, we are deeply concerned about the threat that antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses to public health. This can’t be done alone. Everyone — particularly people in the medical and food production fields — can help combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” Robert Wergin, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said.
The AAFP calls for food production-related measures that:
The AAFP calls on the medical community to administer antibiotics only when needed. As part of the Choosing Wisely campaign, the AAFP has identified recommendations that aim to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics. The Choosing Wisely campaign encourages specialty societies to identify commonly used tests or procedures that are possibly overused. The AAFP identified two procedures related to antibiotic use that physicians and patients should question. They include:
|While it’s true antibiotics save countless lives, their overuse and misuse is rapidly becoming a public health crisis. Many drug-resistant strains of bacteria, or superbugs, can make you extremely sick. Think super gonorrhea, or the worst case of food poisoning you can imagine.|
Some bacterial illnesses that were once easily cured by antibiotics have become harder to treat. From urinary tract infections to serious hospital-borne pathogens, many treatments have become less successful as bacteria learn to fight back.
“Family physicians are concerned about the threat that antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses to public health,” said Robert Wergin, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Doctors must educate their patients about appropriate antibiotic use, and patients need to understand that antibiotics are often not the best course of treatment.”
There are steps you can take to relieve cold and flu symptoms when antibiotics won’t work:
|Wrapup||Tell ’em what you told ’em in this one- to two-sentence paragraph.|
Tip: Copy your nut graph, paste it into the conclusion and massage for a great, low-work wrapup.
Janelle might have written something like, “Unless you have an infection, these approaches are likely to work better than antibiotics anyway — and without the horror movie-style side effects.”
|Kicker||The great thing about inverted pyramids is you just stop typing. Features require an ending. To leave a lasting impression, go with something that’s concrete, creative and provocative.|
I might add a detail or analogy to make this quote more interesting.
|“Antibiotics do a tremendous good, but there’s a flip side of that coin. We have to recognize the risks of inappropriate antibiotic use, and commit to using these medications appropriately,” Wergin said.||“Nobody likes to be sick, but sometimes the best course of action is to treat the symptoms and ride it out,” Wergin said. “Antibiotics do a tremendous good, but there’s a flip side of that coin. We must recognize the risks of inappropriate antibiotic use and use these medications appropriately, or we may find ourselves in a crisis where serious illnesses outsmart our means to treat them.”|
More engaging, easier to read
In addition to re-crafting this piece into a feature story, Janelle also increased her Flesch Reading Ease score from 16.1 to 52.5 — an increase of 226 percent.
So which of these stories would you rather read? And how can you use the feature-style story structure in your next piece?