Framing stories is a way of defining their outer contours so that they go far enough to be complete and as relevant as possible.
News stories are not documentaries; they don’t aim to be the definitive word on a large subject. However, they can go just far enough to make sure important questions are answered. Your job in framing a story is anticipating what the most important questions are.
Framing works in conjunction with the process of focusing. (See How-To’s → Focus Your Story)
In focusing a story, you find the heart of the story — who is doing what and why?
In framing a story, you define its greater reach. Questions may include:
- What does this mean?
- How do we evaluate it?
- Does this fit a pattern?
- How did a similar situation play out?
- What came before this?
- What happens next?
In most cases, you can provide sufficient context to almost any story by including a highly qualified expert in your story to provide analysis or perspective.
Another time-honored method is to grant the reporter a summary paragraph to analyze broader implications.
In some cases, the central story itself is sufficient to convey the level of meaning necessary. It is not unusual for a strong character in a story to simply articulate the greater meaning of their situation.
News Directors and their teams should strive to frame their stories as early in the process as possible. However, framing and re-framing are sometimes desirable later in the process when the core of the story is solid but the surrounding context remains malleable.