Along with the Ws + H (who, what, where, when, why and how), the inverted pyramid style of news writing is as old as time. Part of the inverted pyramid’s enduring appeal is that it allows newspaper readers to get to facts of the story quickly. So how does the pyramid work online?
What if a print reporter wrote a story about a murder and it started with the victim leaving their house at the start of their day? The chances are that many readers would not bother to read on to find out how they were killed. In online journalism, where there is even more pressure on journalists to deliver the facts quickly, we can see that the pyramid is an essential writing style.
Indeed, online users have little time for feature-style drop intros (delayed intros), where the writer can delay talking about the subject until a few pars into the text.
The pyramid also works well because the opening paragraph will usually include the most important search engine keyword. These are those important words that users are likely to type into search engines, such as Google, to find a story. This is very important for search engine optimisation (SEO), which we discuss in the book.
Summary of the inverted pyramid:
- The inverted pyramid contains the most important information at the top of the pyramid (that’s the wide bit).We call this the lead par (first paragraph of the story)
- The less important information goes at the bottom (the thin end), so stories tend to fade out as you read on.
- You should aim to get the Ws and H in the lead or at least in the opening couple of paragraphs.
- The least important information (for example background) comes lower down the copy.
- When editing a news story we always cut from the bottom and move upwards.
So we can see that the pyramid organises stories not around a chronology (e.g. the victim woke up, had a shower, then went to work etc), but around what is newsworthy. It forces the journalist to consider what is most newsworthy. They then must rank the rest of the information they have in order of importance.
Critics of the pyramid
News writing styles vary according to media outlet. In UK newspapers you see plenty of evidence of use of the inverted pyramid. Some newspapers in Asia do not adopt this style and may lead with more feature-style intro pars.
The pyramid doesn’t reward the reader with a satisfying conclusion and some journalists regard it as rather dull.
It’s obvious that this structure works best for only relatively straightforward stories that contain a clear narrative. Stories that have multiple angles of equal importance work less well.
Feature and blog articles tend to have different structures, where important information is lightly sprinkled throughout the copy. Although, when it comes to longer articles of any type, it can be useful to provide a bulleted list of key points and use chunking methods described in chapter 2.