Learn to Write News Stories

The Basics of News Story Format

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Many students take journalism courses because they like to write, and many journalism courses focus on the craft of writing. But the great thing about news writing is that it follows a basic format. Learn that news story format and you'll be able to write strong stories, whether you're a naturally talented writer or not.

Writing Your Lede

The most important part of any news story is the lede, which is the very first sentence of a news story. In it, the writer summarizes the most newsworthy points of the story in broad brushstrokes.

If a lede is well-written, it will give the reader a basic idea of what the story is about, even if they skip over the rest of the story.

Example: Two people died in a rowhouse fire in Northeast Philadelphia last night.

There's obviously a lot more to this story—what caused the fire? Who was killed? What was the address of the rowhouse? But from this ​lede, you get the basics: two people killed, rowhouse fire, and northeast Philadelphia.

The "5 W's and the H"

One way to figure out what goes into a lede is to use the "five W's and the H:" who, what, where, when, why, and how. Who is the story about? What is it about? Where did it occur? And so on. Answer those questions in your lede and you'll cover all your bases.

Sometimes, one of those answers will be more interesting than the rest. Let's say you're writing a story about a celebrity who gets injured in a car crash. Obviously, what makes the story interesting is the fact that a celebrity is involved. A car crash in and of itself is common. So in this example, you'll want to emphasize the "who" aspect of the story in your lede.

Inverted Pyramid Format

After the lede, the rest of a news story is written in the inverted pyramid format. This means that the most important information goes at the top (the beginning of the news story) and the least important details go at the bottom.

We do this for several reasons. First, readers have a limited amount of time and short attention spans, so it makes sense to put the most important news at the start of the story.

Second, this format allows editors to shorten stories quickly if needed. It's much easier to trim a news story if you know that the least important information is at the end.

S-V-O Format

Generally speaking, keep your writing tight and your stories relatively short; say what you need to say in as few words as possible. One way to do this is to follow the S-V-O format, which stands for subject-verb-object. To understand this concept, look at these two examples:

She read the book.

The book was read by her.

The first sentence is written in the S-V-O format, meaning the subject is at the beginning, then the verb, then finished with the direct object. As a result, it is short and to the point. Plus, since the connection between the subject and the action she's taking is clear, the sentence has some life to it. You can picture a woman reading a book when you read the sentence.

The second sentence, on the other hand, doesn't follow S-V-O. It is in the passive voice, so the connection between the subject and what she's doing has been severed. What you're left with is a sentence that's watery and unfocused.

The second sentence is also two words longer than the first. Two words may not seem like a lot, but imagine cutting two words from every sentence in a 10-inch news article. Soon, it starts to add up. You can convey much more information using far fewer words with the S-V-O format.