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The structure of a news story BY ANNA SHORINA CHUVASH STATE UNIVERSITY
“I still believe that if your aim is to change theworld, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”– Tom Stoppard
Story structure You have several options when it comes to the structure of your story. You can choose a chronological order, where you present the key events in your story as they occurred. It is more likely, though, that you will use one of the three traditional news forms: the inverted pyramid, the narrative or the hourglass.
The inverted Pyramid The most popular structure for news stories is theinverted pyramid. In the inverted pyramid, theinformation is arranged in descending order ofimportance.
The most important material is placed at thebeginning of the story, and less important materialfollows. Succeeding paragraphs explain and supportthe lead.
On the other side… But the inverted pyramid has big disadvantages.Although it delivers the most important news first, itdoes not encourage good writing.
Many times stories do not have an ending craftedby the writer; they simply end. There is no suspense.Reporters tend to lose interest, time and energy.Writing in the second half of the story is casual atbest, and poor at worst.
One alternative to the inverted pyramid is narration or story telling. Narration uses scenes,anecdotes and dialogue tobuild to a climax. Peopleare prominent in the story,and they are responsiblefor the action. The storyhas a beginning, middleand end. Quotations soundlike real speech. The wordsand actions of thecharacters reveal motives.
Why is it popular?The inverted pyramid is popular because it stillserves readers well. It tells them quickly whatthey want to know. It also serves the reporterby forcing her to sharpen her news judgment,to identify and rank the most importantelements of the story.
How to Structure News Stories There are a few basic rules for writing andstructuring any news story. If you’re accustomed toother types of writing – such as fiction – these rulesmay seem odd at first. But the format is easy to pickup, and there are very practical reasons whyreporters have followed this format for decades.
The inverted pyramid has faults, but its strengths are:It tells the reader quicklywhat happened.It forces the reporter toidentify key elementsin the story.
An Example Let’s say you’rewriting a story abouta fire in which twopeople are killed andtheir house is burneddown. In yourreporting you’vegathered a lot ofdetails including thevictims’ names, theaddress of their home,what time the blazebroke out, etc.
Obviously the most important information is the factthat two people died in the fire. That’s what you wantat the top of your story.
Other details – the names of the deceased, theaddress of their home, when the fire occurred –should certainly be included. But they should beplaced lower down in the story, not at the very top.
And the least important information - things like what theweather 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 newsarticle is making sure the story follows logically fromthe lede. The lede (that’s how journalists spell it) is the firstparagraph of any news story. It’s also the mostimportant.
So if the lede of your story focuses on the fact thattwo people were killed in the house fire, theparagraphs that immediately follow the lede shouldelaborate on that fact. You wouldnt want the secondor third paragraph of the story to discuss the weatherat the time of the fire.
A Little History The inverted pyramid format turns traditionalstorytelling on its head. In a short story or novel,the most important moment – the climax - typicallycomes near the very end. But in newswriting themost important moment is right at the start inthe lede.
The format was developed during the Civil War.Newspaper correspondents covering that war’sgreat battles relied on telegraph machines totransmit their stories back to their newspapers’offices.
But often saboteurs would cut the telegraph lines,so reporters learned to transmit the most importantinformation – Gen. Lee defeated at Gettysburg, forinstance – at the very start of the transmission tomake sure it got through successfully. Thenewswriting format developed then has servedreporters well ever since.
Telling the Story: Narrative Structure Telling a story that touches the heart is better achieved with narrative structure. Narrative structure has the same basic structure as a book; a beginning, middle and end. The story focuses on the people involved and offers the opportunity for dialogue and action.
Narrative style This format works better with featurearticles that provide the time and space for character andstory development.
Combining Facts and Storytelling: The Hourglass Structure Hourglass structure involves both the pyramidstructure and the narrative structure of news writing.The first part of the article focuses on the facts of thestory and compliments the facts by giving a narrativeversion in the second part. This story structure is well suited to news itemsthat require a chronological narrative such as crimearticles.
One of the strengths of hourglassorganization is that it offers thereporter greater flexibility forsome types of articles. As you cansee by the graphic on your left,the typical hourglass articlebegins like an inverted pyramidarticle, and winds down the lessimportant facts. At that point thereporter departs from theinverted pyramid approach andincorporates some sort oftransitional paragraph. Thisparagraph is called the "turn."
Then the reporter builds up from less importantfacts to most important facts. Many times the secondhalf of the article is an interview transcript,eyewitness report or 911 transcript. Most articlesorganized this way have a conclusion which circlesback to the lead in a similar fashion to essay style.
Hourglass Style Basics1.Begin with a summary lead.2.Build your story from there with facts organized from most important to least.3.About the middle of the article, build in a, "turn," the transitional paragraph.4.Organize the second half of the article from least important to most important facts.5.Use active voice colorful verbs throughout the article.6.Build in a conclusion. The conclusion can circle back to the original lead.