From Ledes to Beats: Journalism Terms

Journalism, like any profession, has its own set of terms, its own lingo, that any working reporter must know in order to understand what people are talking about in a newsroom. Here then are 10 terms that you should know.

Lede

The lede is the first sentence of a hard-news story; a succinct summary of the story’s main point. Ledes should typically be a single sentence or no more than 35 to 40 words.

The best ledes are ones that highlight the most important, newsworthy and interesting aspects of a news story, while leaving out secondary details that can be included later in the story.​

Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is the model used to describe how a news story is structured. It means the heaviest or most important news goes at the top of the story, and the lightest, or least important, goes at the bottom. As you move from the top to the bottom of the story, the information presented should gradually become less important. That way, if an editor needs to cut the story to make it fit a particular space, she can cut from the bottom without losing any vital information.

Copy

Copy simply refers to content of a news article. Think of it as another word for content. So when we refer to a copy editor, we're talking about someone who edits news stories.

Beat

A beat is a particular area or topic that a reporter covers.

On a typical newspaper you'll have an array of reporters who cover such beats as the police, courts, city hall and school board. At larger papers beats can be come even more specialized. Papers like The New York Times have reporters who cover national security, the Supreme Court, high-tech industries and health care.

Byline

The byline is the name of the reporter who writes a news story. Bylines are usually placed at the beginning of an article.

Dateline

The dateline is the city from which a news story originates. This is usually placed at the start of the article, right after the byline. If a story has both a dateline and a byline, that generally indicates that the reporter who wrote the article was actually in the city named in the dateline. But if a reporter is in, say, New York, and is writing about an event in Chicago, he must choose between having a byline but no dateline, or vice versa. 

Source

A source is anyone you interview for a news story. In most cases sources are on-the-record, which means they are fully identified, by name and position, in the article for which they have been interviewed.

Anonymous source

This is a source who does not want to be identified in a news story. Editors generally frown upon using anonymous sources because they are less credible than on-the-record sources, but sometimes anonymous sources are necessary.

Attribution

Attribution means telling readers where the information in a news story comes from. This is important because reporters don't always have firsthand access to all the information needed for a story; they must rely on sources, such as police, prosecutors or other officials for information.

AP Style

This refers to Associated Press Style, which is the standardized format and usage for writing news copy. AP Style is followed by most U.S. newspapers and websites. You can learn AP Style for the AP Stylebook.