The inverted pyramid: How journalists organize their stories

News articles start with the newest and most important, then go into the details, and finally, the background and context.

The name inverted pyramid describes the structure of a news story. It is a popular way to write them and is taught in colleges and universities. News articles start with the main point being reported then go further into elaboration and background.

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The inverted pyramid is a simple structure. It instructs the journalist to start with the first sentence which is called “lede” and which includes all the most important and newsworthy information so that you could stop reading the article after the first sentence and still get the main point. Typically, that means it contains in “the five-W’s”: answering who, when, where, why and what.

After this the journalist includes the details which support and explain that main point. At the end you fill your article with background information to help the reader understand the context of the new information.

Here is an example for a news article which uses the inverted pyramid style:

SEOUL, Nov 23 (Reuters) – North Korea‘s latest defector, a young soldier known only by his family name Oh, is a quiet, pleasant man who has nightmares about being returned to the North, his surgeon said on Thursday.

“He’s a pretty nice guy,” said lead surgeon John Cook-Jong Lee, who has been operating and caring for the 24-year-old. Oh has become a focus of worldwide attention after he was badly wounded by fellow North Korean soldiers as he scrambled across the border in the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South on Nov. 13.

Video of Oh’s escape released on Wednesday showed him stumbling over the border and being dragged unconscious through the undergrowth by South Korean troops.

In this example article, you can clearly find the breakdown of the inverted pyramid. The article is following up on previous reporting about a North Korean defector, by offering new information about him. The first sentence is the lede. The article is about the latest defector and especially about who he is. Specifically it states that he is a pleasant, quiet man who has nightmares.

In the second sentence you can find more important details about him in form of a citation from his lead surgeon, who says that he is “a pretty nice guy.”

And in the last two sentences you get more background information about the whole case the defectors from North Korea and why especially this story gets so much attention.

The inverted pyramid is a prefered way to write a news story because of the benefits. You catch the readers of your story from beginning because of your lede. You give the readers the important information right away and if they are interested, they can delve into more specific details and background information.

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