The structure of a news story
BY ANNA SHORINA
CHUVASH STATE UNIVERSITY
“I still believe that if your aim is to change the
world, journalism is a more immediate short-
– Tom Stoppard
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,
or the hourglass.
The inverted Pyramid
The most popular structure for news stories is the
inverted pyramid. In the inverted pyramid, the
information is arranged in descending order of
The most important material is placed at the
beginning of the story, and less important material
follows. Succeeding paragraphs explain and support
On the other side…
But the inverted pyramid has big disadvantages.
Although it delivers the most important news first, it
does not encourage good writing.
Many times stories do not have an ending crafted
by 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 at
best, and poor at worst.
One alternative to the inverted pyramid is
narration or story telling.
Narration uses scenes,
anecdotes and dialogue to
build to a climax. People
are prominent in the story,
and they are responsible
for the action. The story
has a beginning, middle
and end. Quotations sound
like real speech. The words
and actions of the
characters reveal motives.
Why is it popular?
The inverted pyramid is popular because it still
serves readers well. It tells them quickly what
they want to know. It also serves the reporter
by forcing her to sharpen her news judgment,
to identify and rank the most important
elements of the story.
How to Structure News Stories
There are a few basic rules for writing and
structuring any news story. If you’re accustomed to
other types of writing – such as fiction – these rules
may seem odd at first. But the format is easy to pick
up, and there are very practical reasons why
reporters have followed this format for decades.
The inverted pyramid has faults, but its
It tells the reader quickly
It forces the reporter to
identify key elements
in the story.
Let’s say you’re
writing a story about
a fire in which two
people are killed and
their house is burned
down. In your
gathered a lot of
details including the
victims’ names, the
address of their home,
what time the blaze
broke out, etc.
Obviously the most important information is the fact
that two people died in the fire. That’s what you want
at the top of your story.
Other details – the names of the deceased, the
address of their home, when the fire occurred –
should certainly be included. But they should be
placed lower down in the story, not at the very top.
And the least important information - things like what the
weather 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 news
article is making sure the story follows logically from
The lede (that’s how journalists spell it) is the first
paragraph of any news story. It’s also the most
So if the lede of your story focuses on the fact that
two people were killed in the house fire, the
paragraphs that immediately follow the lede should
elaborate on that fact. You wouldn't want the second
or third paragraph of the story to discuss the weather
at the time of the fire.
A Little History
The inverted pyramid format turns traditional
storytelling on its head. In a short story or novel,
the most important moment – the climax - typically
comes near the very end. But in newswriting the
most important moment is right at the start in
The format was developed during the Civil War.
Newspaper correspondents covering that war’s
great battles relied on telegraph machines to
transmit their stories back to their newspapers’
But often saboteurs would cut the telegraph lines,
so reporters learned to transmit the most important
information – Gen. Lee defeated at Gettysburg, for
instance – at the very start of the transmission to
make sure it got through successfully. The
newswriting format developed then has served
reporters 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.
This format works
better with feature
articles that provide
the time and space
for character and
Combining Facts and Storytelling: The
Hourglass structure involves both the pyramid
structure and the narrative structure of news writing.
The first part of the article focuses on the facts of the
story and compliments the facts by giving a narrative
version in the second part.
This story structure is well suited to news items
that require a chronological narrative such as crime
One of the strengths of hourglass
organization is that it offers the
reporter greater flexibility for
some types of articles. As you can
see by the graphic on your left,
the typical hourglass article
begins like an inverted pyramid
article, and winds down the less
important facts. At that point the
reporter departs from the
inverted pyramid approach and
incorporates some sort of
transitional paragraph. This
paragraph is called the "turn."
Then the reporter builds up from less important
facts to most important facts. Many times the second
half of the article is an interview transcript,
eyewitness report or 911 transcript. Most articles
organized this way have a conclusion which circles
back to the lead in a similar fashion to essay style.
Hourglass Style Basics
1.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
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.