As a reporter, my favorite story structure was what I liked to call the “Sandwich.” You start with a piece of bread, or the “lede” if you’re old school, add the “meat,” the meaty part of the story, stack on some lettuce and cheese details, then wrap it all up with another slice of bread to hold the details together.
Of course, I didn’t invent the structure; it’s also sometimes called an hourglass that tacks an actual ending onto a boring old inverted pyramid—the standard news structure that gives you what you need to know in the first few paragraphs and lets editors lop off the unnecessary details if the story doesn’t fit.
Nothing made me cringe more than working as a cub reporter at The Washington Missourian and watching my editor, Bill Miller, reach for a razor and head toward the page with my story on it (we used paper back then so he could literally slice a paragraph or two off the bottom).
After a few years, I started using the hourglass structure and came up with the sandwich analogy. It dawned on me that it’s much tougher for editors to casually lop off those final few paragraphs when that bottom slice of bread is so darn critical. (Or it used to be before the whole no-carb craze.)
I thought my sandwich analogy was really brilliant and original. I’ve even boasted about it to other professionals who agreed it was genius. Really.
On Friday, I was searching the Stephens’ website, and I happened on this. THIS.
Hamburger writing. My once-original and brilliant story analogy.
And—get this—this is being taught not in an elite Stephens journalism course but rather…wait for it…in Ms. Amy’s elementary class at the Stephens College Children’s School.
And Ms. Amy—Stephens alumna Amy Walker—isn’t even a journalism major. She has an elementary teaching certification and is completing her Masters in Education in the Curriculum & Instruction program.
That’s right. Non-journalists and elementary school children at Stephens know what it took me years as a working adult to figure out.
I’ve not had a chance to interact with them much yet, but I am learning that Stephens College Children’s School might be one of Columbia’s best-kept secrets. Parents who have or have had students in it have raved about it to me but others I’ve talked to aren’t as familiar with the preK-5 school, which is open to the public.
Here’s what I can tell you. The school groups children based on ability rather than age. It doubles as a learning setting where Stephens’ education students observe and assist.
And it offers teachers like Ms. Amy. Ms. Amy who is teaching professional writing skills to children.
And if any of those kiddos decide to go into journalism, watch out Mr. Miller.