How Reporters Can Write Great Follow-up News Stories

Finding a Fresh Lede Is Key

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Writing a single basic breaking news article is a pretty straightforward task. You start by writing your lede, which is based on the most important facts in the story.

But many news stories are not simply one-time events but rather ongoing topics that can last for weeks or even months. One example would be a crime story that unfolds over time - the crime is committed, then police search for and finally arrest a suspect.

Another example might be a long trial involving an especially complex or interesting case.

Reporters must often do what are called follow-up articles for long-lasting topics such as these. At this link you can read about developing ideas for follow-up stories. Here we'll discuss how to write follow-ups.

The Lede

The key to writing an effective follow-up story starts with the lede. You can't write the same lede every day for a story that continues over an extended period of time.

Instead, you must construct a fresh lede each day, one that reflects the latest developments in the story.

But while writing a lede that includes those latest developments, you also need to remind your readers what the original story was all about to begin with. So the follow-up story lede really combines new developments with some background material about the original story.

An Example

Let's say you cover a house fire in which several people are killed.

Here's how your lede for the first story might read:

Two people were killed last night when a fast-moving fire swept through their house.

Now let's say several days have passed and the fire marshal tells you the fire was a case of arson. Here's your first follow-up lede:

A house fire that killed two people earlier this week was deliberately set, the fire marshal announced yesterday.

See how the lede combines important background from the original story - two people killed in the fire - with the new development - the fire marshal announcing that it was arson.

Now let's take this story one step further. Let's say a week has passed and police have arrested a man who they say set the fire. Here's how your lede might go:

Police yesterday arrested a man who they say set the fire last week that killed two people in a house.

Get the idea? Again, the lede combines the most important information from the original story with the latest development.

Reporters do follow-up stories this way so that readers who may not have read the original story can figure out what is going on and not be confused.

The Rest of The Story

The rest of the follow-up story should follow the same balancing act of combining the latest news with background information. Generally, the newer developments should be placed higher in the story, while the older information should be lower down.

Here's how the first few paragraphs of your follow-up story about the arrest of the arson suspect might go:

Police yesterday arrested a man who they say set the fire last week that killed two people in a house.

Police said Larson Jenkins, 23, used rags soaked with gasoline to set the fire at the house that killed his girlfriend, Lorena Halbert, 22, and her mother, Mary Halbert, 57.

Detective Jerry Groenig said Jenkins was apparently angry because Halbert had recently broken up with him.

The fire started around 3 a.m. last Tuesday and quickly swept through the house. Lorena and Mary Halbert were pronounced dead at the scene. No one else was injured.

Again, the latest developments are placed high in the story. But they are always tied to background from the original event. This way, even a reader learning about this story for the first time will easily understand what has happened.