The News Manual Chapter 3 : The shape of the news story

HERE we will introduce the concept of the inverted pyramid, which is the basic shape of the news story. We see why this is a good way to present news. News stories go straight to the point.

In this respect, they are quite unlike other forms of written English, such as novels and short stories, committee reports, letters, and theses.

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All these are written primarily for people with the time to consider and absorb what has been written.

They also follow the usual pattern of spoken language, in which it is generally impolite to jump straight to the main point which you wish to make without first establishing contact.

For example, a female student writing home may say:

“Dear Mum and Dad, I don’t want you to worry about me, but I have some news for you which you are not going to like. I met a boy here at the start of the semester and he likes me a lot. Well, we have been seeing a lot of each other and …”

What she is not likely to write home is:

“Dear Mum and Dad, I am pregnant.”

But news stories do that; that is why they are different.

In the following example, you will see that the narrative form starts at the oldest part of the story, then tells what happened in the order in which it happened.

The news form starts at the most newsworthy part of the story, then fills in details with the most newsworthy first and the least newsworthy last:

NARRATIVE
When electricians wired the home of Mrs. Mary Ume in Hohola, Port Moresby, some years ago they neglected to install sufficient insulation at a point in the laundry where a number of wires crossed.

A short-circuit occurred early this morning.

Contact between the wires is thought to have created a spark, which ignited the walls of the house.

The flames quickly spread through the entire house.

Mrs. Ume, her daughter Peni (aged ten), and her son Jonah (aged five months) were asleep in a rear bedroom. They had no way of escape and all perished.

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