How to build better front page packages using Buck Ryan’s Maestro Concept

I was in Nashville, Tenn. last month attending one of Tim Harrower‘s workshops when I heard mention of a curious concept called the Maestro Concept. It’s the idea that if you spend a little time incorporate planning, your team will be able to create complete packages for a dominate story.

Have you ever had an experience where a reporter comes in with a story that has the potential to be a perfect front page story but lacked photos, a clear angle or other catchy info graphics or visuals? So at the last minute you try to pull together some pictures (that probably aren’t exactly what you’re looking for) and end up giving your graphic editor some grief with a last minute request for something visually attractive to go along with the story.

It happens in my college’s student news room all the time. Students will send in stories of events or important issues without having any pictures or info I can use to create fast fact boxes.

So what can you do about it? Buck Ryan, the creator of the Maestro concept, has been encouraging news rooms for years to pick a maestro who will orchestrate the stories from infancy to publication.

There are several key elements to the concept. The two I particularly latched on to as a college student are group meetings and coaching writers. The group meeting can occur during a budget meeting but I think it would be better to have a more intimate meeting with the writer working on the top story of the week/day, a photographer, designer and anyone else who would be key to getting the story package.

And sometimes this idea requires team members to rethink some of their habits.

Buck said in an e-mail,
“Maestro requires a new way of thinking for editors (they need to coach reporters to improve focus and time management); for reporters (they need complete their reporting with a sketch in mind and the task of writing sidebars first, suggested headlines and captions); for designers (reader questions drive the design); and for photographers (they write the “lead,” where readers start the story).”

Depending on how your newspaper approaches the whole process, this idea can take more or less work implementing than it would take to implement in my college’s student newspaper. But Tim Harrower said in a recent e-mail that it is worth the work.

Tim said,
I’ve seen papers transform the way they collaborate using the maestro process. Especially smaller papers. That’s the main reason I keep promoting it so heavily. I’ve seen night-and-day transformations in college papers, in particular — which seem to have a hard time getting reporters to take the time for pre-planning. But when they do, the results are often dramatic. (And even incremental improvements — simply adding a sidebar to a story, for example — can increase the readability and usefulness of a story in a subtle way.)

Buck also gave a few tips for college students or professionals who want to give it a go.

Buck said,
Start with one big story and one small team (editor, reporter, photog, designer) who gets the idea. See the process all the way through, celebrate success, offer critique on how to do it better and master the next time, and keep going with the one team until you have a record of success. Then let that team bring along the rest of the staff.

If you want to learn more about Buck’s ideas, check out his book “The Editor’s Toolbox: a Reference Tool for Beginners and Professionals.


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