Here's the way Lawrence Surtees of the Globe
and Mail describes the structure of a news story:
look at a recent daily newspaper (in print or on the Web) and
look at the front page. Scan several stories briefly.
how different the news is and the stories they tell, it doesn't
take long to realize they all seem similar.
News stories are organized in much the same way.
Once you learn how they are organized, they will be much easier
- The first paragraph
is called the LEAD or LEDE (pronounced as in "to lead")
- The rest of the
story is called the BODY, which generally backs up the LEAD.
- And, finally, as
with any good story, there should be a pithy ENDING.
The structure of a news story is often referred to as the inverted pyramid. That is because
the main, and most important, point is contained in the first
sentence. The rest of the story contains elements of less importance
as the reader nears the bottom.
The inverted pyramid arose during the era of movable lead
type. It allowed editors and composers, who laid out columns
of type set stories, to trim a story quickly at the last minute
from the bottom up. The replacement of hot type with computers
has made it easier to edit a story to fit its allotted space
on a newspaper page -- and eased the strictures about news story
The rules of newswriting have relaxed over time and different
styles are popular with various newspapers. But many reporters
still use the inverted pyramid technique to organize their stories
and ensure that the most important information goes at the beginning
of the story.
how it works:
The lead is the opening sentence/paragraph which
summarizes the basic facts of a story and conveys to the readers
what you, the writer, found out in your reporting. But it must
be more than just an opening to your story. The lead must also
catch a reader's or listener's attention and make them want to
read the rest of your story.
Journalists are taught a simple rule about basic news leads,
called the "5-W's." They
are: Who? What? Where? When? Why?
A sentence or paragraph that gives a reader the answer to all
the five W's will automatically summarize any story.
There are many other kinds of news leads, but they all fall
into two categories: "hard"
leads and "soft" leads.
The choice depends on the nature of the story and determines
the form of the rest of the story. A
hard lead is suited for an urgent, breaking event, while a soft
lead is more indirect and suited to feature writing.
A hard lead:
Canada and France don't reach an agreement on fish quotas by
Sept. 30 Ottawa will unilaterally impose one, Fisheries Minister
John Crosbie says.
-- St. John's Evening Telegram, Sept. 16, 1992.
A soft lead:
Bryan Adams spoke and the
"Be good to Osoyoos," Adams
told the crowd of 30,000 who gathered in the Okanagan town Sunday
for the only B.C. stop in his Waking Up the Nation tour. "Osoyoos
has been good to you tonight. So have a good time and don't wreck
Then the clean cut kid from North Vancouver gave the fans what
they had come for.
-- Vancouver Sun, Sept. 8, 1992
2. Body of the Story
The rest of a news story is called the body. In a
hard news story, the body supports the lead and in the classic
inverted pyramid style is organized so that the facts and quotes
are written in declining importance.
After the lead, a story may have a theme paragraph that spells
out the theme or sub-themes in greater detail. The story then
proceeds with sections that explore the theme and sub-theme in
more detail, and in order.
In addition to the writer's narrative, each sub-theme is backed
up with background facts and relevant quotations that you have
selected. Remember that readers want to know who said something
that appears in quotation marks, so identify the speaker. And
that means asking permission and making sure you know how to
spell a source's name correctly.
The body of a story can
be written in other ways that depart from the inverted pyramid.
One form is called the hourglass, which tries to retain the suspense
of traditional fictional storytelling.
A story should proceed in a natural and CHRONOLOGICAL order.
Sticking to a logical order will make it easier to write the
story, as well as to allow you to keep track of your ideas and
material. Don't jump back and forth and keep paragraphs short
and simple -- one idea at a time.
After you write down a lead, begin the body of the story with
a brief point-form outline. An outline is real simple, especially
on a personal computer, quick to start, helps organize your thoughts
-- and allows you to remember all the great stuff you want to
put in your story.
Newswriters also refer to a story's "flow".
Writers don't just plop down a string of ideas and sub-themes,
one after another. You have to string them together, which you
do by writing "transitions." Those come at the end
of one idea and relate that thought or statement to the next
3. The Ending
Inverted pyramid stories don't need a strong ending
since those hard news stories simply end when there is nothing
more to say. But other kinds of news stories often need a good
ending. And as with any other kind of writing, the ending can
be as difficult as the beginning.
One way to end is with a "kicker,"
which is often a catchy quote. Another effective ending is to
conclude with a quote or anecdote that relates the story back
to the main theme and leaves the reader thinking about the essence
of the story.
Avoid preaching or lecturing at the end of the story. It is
often hard to resist, but if the story is told well, the quotes
and facts that a newswriter chooses will allow the reader to
come to the same conclusion on their own.