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News style (also journalistic style or news writing style) is the prose style used for news reporting in media such as newspapers, 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 - who, what, when, where and why (the Five Ws) and also often how - at the opening of the article. This form of structure is sometimes called the "inverted pyramid," to refer to the decreasing importance of information in subsequent paragraphs.

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

Contents

Overview

Newspapers generally adhere to an expository writing mode and style, but over time and place journalism ethics and standards have varied in the degree of objectivity and sensationalism incorporated. There are debated definitions 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 appearance of objectivity. 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.[1]

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 (see Grammar). 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 headline, heading, head or title of a story, in journalist's jargon.[2] Rarely a complete sentence, eg. "Pilot Flies Below Bridges to Save Divers"

Subhead (or dek or deck)

A phrase, sentence or several sentences near the title of an article or story, a quick blurb or article teaser.[2]

Lead or intro

The most important structural element of a story is the lead or "intro" (in the UK) — the story's first, or leading, sentence. (Some American English writers use the spelling lede (pronounced /ˈliːd/), from the archaic English, to avoid confusion with the printing press type formerly made from lead or the related typographical term leading.[3])

Charnley[4] states that "an effective lead is a 'brief, sharp statement of the story's essential facts.'"[5] The 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 (putting the most important information first - see inverted pyramid section below) applies especially to leads, but the unreadability of long sentences constrains the lead's size. This makes writing a lead 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 lead should answer most or all of the five Ws, few leads can fit all of these.

To "bury the lead" in news style refers to beginning a description with details of secondary importance to the readers, forcing them to read more deeply into an article than they should have to in order to discover the essential point(s).

Article leads are sometimes categorized into hard leads and soft leads. A hard lead aims to provide a comprehensive thesis which tells the reader what the article will cover. A soft lead introduces the topic in a more creative, attention-seeking fashion, and is usually followed by a nut graph (a brief summary of facts).[6]

Media critics often note that the lead can be the most polarizing subject in the article. Often critics accuse the article of bias based on an editor's choice of headline and/or lead.

Example Lead-and-Summary Design

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

Example Soft-Lead 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 trillion dollars for the project. ...

Nut graph (various spellings)

One or more brief paragraphs that summarise the news value of the story, sometimes bullet-pointed and/or set off in a box. The various spellings are contractions of the expression nutshell paragraph. Nut graphs are used particularly in feature stories (see below).

Inverted pyramid

Journalists usually describe the organization or structure of a news story as an inverted pyramid. The journalist puts the essential and most interesting elements of his or her story at the beginning, with supporting information following in order of diminishing importance.

This structure enables readers to stop reading at any point and still come away with the essence of a story. It allows people to explore a topic to only the depth that their curiosity takes them, and without the imposition of details or nuances that they could consider irrelevant, but still making that information available to more interested readers.

The inverted pyramid structure also enables articles to be trimmed to any arbitrary length during layout, to fit in the space available.

Writers are often admonished "Don't bury the lead!" to ensure that they present the most important facts first, rather than requiring the reader to go through several paragraphs to find them.

Some writers start their stories with the "1-2-3 lead". This format invariably starts with a "Five Ws" 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 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 lead". 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 graph 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

References

Notes

Bibliography

  • 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)

External links








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