For Beginning Journalists, a Look at How to Structure News Stories

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How to Structure News Stories

There are a few basic rules for writing and structuring any news story. If you’re accustomed to other types of writing – such as fiction – these rules may seem odd at first. But the format is easy to pick up, and there are very practical reasons why reporters have followed this format for decades.

The Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is the model for newswriting. It simply means that the heaviest or most important information should be at the top – the beginning – of your story, and the least important information should go at the bottom. And as you move from top to bottom, the information presented should gradually become less important.

An Example

Let’s say you’re writing a story about a fire in which two people are killed and their house is burned down. In your reporting you’ve gathered a lot of details including the victims’ names, the address of their home, what time the blaze broke out, etc.

Obviously the most important information is the fact that two people died in the fire. That’s what you want at the top of your story.

Other details – the names of the deceased, the address of their home, when the fire occurred – should certainly be included. But they should be placed lower down in the story, not at the very top.

And the least important information - things like what the weather was like at the time, or the color of the home - should be at the very bottom of the story.

The Story Follows The Lede

The other important aspect of structuring a news article is making sure the story follows logically from the lede.

So if the lede of your story focuses on the fact that two people were killed in the house fire, the paragraphs that immediately follow the lede should elaborate on that fact. You wouldn't want the second or third paragraph of the story to discuss the weather at the time of the fire.

A Little History

The inverted pyramid format turns traditional storytelling on its head. In a short story or novel, the most important moment – the climax - typically comes near the very end. But in newswriting the most important moment is right at the start in the lede.

The format was developed during the Civil War. Newspaper correspondents covering that war’s great battles relied on telegraph machines to transmit their stories back to their newspapers’ offices.

But often saboteurs would cut the telegraph lines, so reporters learned to transmit the most important information – Gen. Lee defeated at Gettysburg, for instance – at the very start of the transmission to make sure it got through successfully. The newswriting format developed then has served reporters well ever since.