Essential elements of a news story

Pyramid journalism graphic by David BrewerNormally, when writing for a school project or business presentation, you assemble all the information, set it out, link it together, and reach your conclusion.The conclusion is at the bottom with all the supporting arguments and information above.

News writing is the opposite.

You start with the essence of the story, for example, let’s imagine the following headline which reads: “The price of cotton has fallen by 15 per cent”.

You then add extra information such as the impact on producers, the textile industry, the economy, consumer prices, employment, etc.

Details such as whether it was expected, what is being done about it, whether it is short- or long-term, and how people are reacting to the news are then added..

A reader or listener can stop after the headline and summary knowing the basic facts.

The person who wants to know more can continue for added information.

Some journalists refer to this method as pyramid journalism, as set out in the graphic above, others refer to it as the inverted pyramid. But no matter how you look at it, the headline is at the top, and more information is added according to its relevance and newsworthiness.

Those who need to understand the essential information will be able to access it in the first few lines, while those who are fascinated by the story can continue reading background information that supports the main thrust of the article. And those who are not that interested will have moved on to another news item.

It’s a simple but effective technique that relies entirely on how well focused you are.

You, the journalist, must decide what the top line is, what comes second, third, and so on.

And you must alway keep in mind that you risk losing your audience if you get too bogged down in detail and offer too much of one kind of information at the expense of other aspects of the story.

In the next lesson we look at the six questions that journalists should ask. What, Why, When, How, Where, and Who.

The text for this lesson was written by John Allen a former executive editor of BBC News. The text is from Media Helping Media and is reproduced under the terms of Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. The graphic at the top is by David Brewer released via Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0