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Column: Dishing up information in appetizing way

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There was a time when all of the information gathered by newspaper reporters was placed into one story. The most important material went at the top, followed by other facts in order of importance. The least interesting or least important material was placed at the end of the story.

Technology wasn’t as advanced in those days. It was largely a guessing game when editors designated particular content for a news page. When all of the information wouldn’t fit, the least important material got lopped off.

That approach to story writing was known as the inverted pyramid, a metaphor used by journalists to illustrate how stories were organized.

We don’t follow that approach anymore — at least not here at The Republic.

You’re better off with news content better planned and more compartmentalized.

Since this is Indiana and we don’t have many pyramids, let me use a different metaphor to explain further.

Think about serving up your meal on plastic plates with raised edges and cordoned-off sections.

The main course gets placed in the largest section of the plate. Smaller sections are reserved for vegetables, dessert or other side dishes.

There are practical reasons for this.

When you place heaping amounts of food on a small, flat dinner plate, as you would when going through a buffet, you run the risk of having rivers of Jell-O running through mountains of mashed potatoes and hills of spaghetti.

The Republic’s approach to news compartmentalization opts for more bite-sized pieces rather than lumping it all together.

This is especially helpful when covering long-running, complicated, multifaceted news stories.

A good recent example would be coverage of the city parks controversy, which we have been following for five months.

A turning point in the parks coverage came May 23, when three of the four sitting parks board members submitted their written resignations.

Our coverage in the May 24 Republic consisted of:

Several headlines summarizing the news.

Photographs of key individuals.

A detailed news story that explained what happened in this significant development in the power struggle about who has authority over city parks.

Highlighted quotes from key individuals.

A timeline of 18 key dates in the controversy, from Dec. 30 through the May 23 resignations.

Full text of the joint resignation letter.

A summary describing the makeup of the parks board, listing the members, when their individual terms were scheduled to expire, who appointed them and biographical information on each.

A list of key points from an 11-page legal opinion that addressed particular issues in the debate, based on one law firm’s interpretation of state statutes.

An invitation to read the entire 11-page legal opinion online at

Imagine if all of the text were dropped into a single story, as it would have been in an earlier era, filling up two full pages without any visual elements to provide attention, context and relief.

We’re not just talking about mashed potatoes, spaghetti and Jell-O running together, but throw in coleslaw, green beans, baked beans, chocolate pudding and strawberry ice cream.

Can you tell I have dined a few times at serve-yourself buffets?

For newspaper readers, this mishmash of content would have been an unappealing mess.

No matter which side of the City Hall controversy you happen to be on, there is no way we could have lumped all of that content together and expect readers to digest it.

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