news writing

News style

News style (also journalistic style or news writing) is the particular prose style used for news reporting (ie. in newspapers) as well as in news items that air on radio and television. News style encompasses not only vocabulary and sentence structure, but also the way in which stories present the information in terms of relative importance, tone, and intended audience.

News writing attempts to answer all the basic questions about any particular event in the first two or three paragraphs: ''Who? What? When? Where? and Why? and occasionally How? (ie. "5 W's"). This form of structure is sometimes called the "inverted pyramid," to refer to decreased importance of information as it progresses.

News stories also contain at least one of the following important characteristics: proximity, prominence, timeliness, human interest, oddity, or consequence.


While newspapers, like encyclopedias, generally adhere to an expository writing mode and style, this has changed over time as journalism ethics and standards have (debatably) increased to become more objective and less sensationalistic. There are debated degrees of professionalism among particular news agencies, and their reputability or public value, according to professional standards of idealism and depending on what the reader wants from a news story, may be tied to their ability to be objective. In its most ideal form, news writing strives to be intelligible to the vast majority of potential readers, as well as to be engaging and succinct. Within the limits created by these goals, news stories also aim for a kind of comprehensiveness. However other factors are involved, some of which are practical and derived from the media form, and others stylistic.

Among the larger and more respected newspapers, fairness and balance is a major factor for the presentation of information. Commentary is usually confined to a separate section, though each paper may have a different overall slant. Editorial policy dictates the use of adjectives, euphemisms, and idioms. Papers with an international audience for example, usually use a more formal style of writing.

The specific choices made by a news outlet's editor or editorial board are often collected in a style guide or stylebook; common commercial stylebooks are the "AP Style Manual" and the "US News Style Book". The main goals of news writing can be summarized by the ABCs of journalism: accuracy, brevity, and clarity.

Terms and structure

Journalistic prose is explicit and precise, and tries not to rely on jargon. As a rule, journalists will not use a long word when a short one will do. They use subject-verb-object construction and vivid, active prose. They offer anecdotes, examples and metaphors, and they rarely depend on colorless generalizations or abstract ideas. News writers try to avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph (sometimes called an "echo" or "word mirror").

Headline (or hed)

The head of a story, in newsman's jargon.

Subhead (or dek)

A phrase, sentence or several sentences near the title of an article or story.

Lede or lead

The most important structural element of a story is the lede or lead—the story's first, or leading, sentence. Charnley (1966) stated that "an effective lead is a "brief, sharp statement of the story's essential facts" (p. 166.). The lede/lead is usually the first sentence, or in some cases the first two sentences, and is ideally 20-25 words in length. The top-loading principle applies especially to ledes, but the unreadability of long sentences constrains its size. This makes writing a lede an optimization problem, in which the goal is to articulate the most encompassing and interesting statement that a writer can make in one sentence, given the material with which he or she has to work. While a rule of thumb says the lede should answer most or all of the 5 Ws, few ledes can fit all of these.

Article ledes are sometimes categorized into hard ledes and soft ledes. A hard lede aims to provide a comprehensive thesis which tells the reader what the article will cover. A soft lede introduces the topic in a more creative, attention-seeking fashion, and is usually followed by a nut graf (a brief summary of facts).

Media critics often note that the lede can be the most polarizing subject in the article. Often critics find bias based on an editor's choice in headline and lede.

Example Lede-and-Summary Design

Humans will be going to the moon again. The NASA announcement came as the agency requested ten gazillion dollars of appropriations for the project. ...

Example Soft-Lede Design

NASA is proposing another space project. The agency's budget request, announced today, included a plan to send another person to the moon. This time the agency hopes to establish a long-term facility as a jumping-off point for other space adventures. The budget requests approximately ten gazillion dollars for the project. ...

Two other terms common in editing are hed and dek or deck. Hed is used to denote an article's headline or heading. Dek refers to a quick blurb or article teaser.

Nut graph

One or more paragraphs, particularly in a feature story, that explain the news value of the story.

Inverted pyramid

Journalism instructors usually describe the organization or structure of a news story as an inverted pyramid. The journalist top-loads the essential and most interesting elements of his or her story, with supporting information following in order of diminishing importance.

This structure enables readers to quit reading at any point and still come away with the essence of a story. It allows people to enter a topic to the depth that their curiosity takes them, and without the imposition of details or nuances that they would consider irrelevant.

Newsroom practicalities represent another rationale. The inverted pyramid structure enables sub-editors and other news staff to quickly create space for ads and late-breaking news simply by cutting items ("throw-aways") from the bottom ("cutting", literally, at the papers that still use traditional paste up techniques). The structure frees sub-editors to truncate stories at almost any length that suits their needs for space.

Poor structure typically begins with a faulty lede. Steeped in the raw material of their interviews and research, apprentice news writers often fail to anticipate what readers will find most interesting or to sum up the information quickly. These elements of their story they present only after their lede and in an article's later paragraphs. This is the reason for the popular newsroom admonition: "Don't bury the lede!"

Some writers start their stories with the "1-2-3 lede". This format invariably starts with a 5W opening paragraph (as described above), followed by an indirect quote that serves to support a major element of the first paragraph, and then a direct quote to support the indirect quote.

Feature style

News stories aren't the only type of material that appear in newspapers and magazines. Longer articles, such as magazine cover articles and the pieces that lead the inside sections of a newspaper, are known as features. Feature stories differ from straight news in several ways. Foremost is the absence of a straight-news lead, most of the time. Instead of offering the essence of a story up front, feature writers may attempt to lure readers in.

While straight news stories always stay in third person point of view, it's not uncommon for a feature magazine article to slip into first person. The journalist will often detail his or her interactions with interview subjects, making the piece more personal.

A feature's first paragraphs often relate an intriguing moment or event, as in an "anecdotal lede". From the particulars of a person or episode, its view quickly broadens to generalities about the story's subject.

The section that signals what a feature is about is called the nut graf or billboard. Billboards appear as the third or fourth paragraph from the top, and may be up to two paragraphs long. Unlike a lede, a billboard rarely gives everything away. This reflects the fact that feature writers aim to hold their readers' attention to the end, which requires engendering curiosity and offering a "payoff." Feature paragraphs tend to be longer than those of news stories, with smoother transitions between them. Feature writers use the active-verb construction and concrete explanations of straight news, but often put more personality in their prose.

Feature stories often close with a "kicker" rather than simply petering out.

See also




  • Linda Jorgensen. Real-World Newsletters (1999)
  • Mark Levin. The Reporter's Notebook : Writing Tools for Student Journalists (2000)
  • Buck Ryan and Michael O'Donnell. The Editor's Toolbox: A Reference Guide for Beginners and Professionals, (2001)
  • Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly. The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World's Most Authoritative Newspaper, (2002)
  • M. L. Stein, Susan Paterno, and R. Christopher Burnett, The Newswriter's Handbook Introduction to Journalism (2006)
  • Bryan A. Garner. The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Court (1999)
  • Philip Gerard, Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life (1998)
  • Steve Peha and Margot Carmichael Lester, Be a Writer: Your Guide to the Writing Life (2006)
  • Andrea Sutcliffe. New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage, (1994)
  • Bill Walsh, The Elephants of Style: A Trunkload of Tips on the Big Issues and Gray Areas of Contemporary American English (2004)

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