Is the Inverted News Story “old news?”

Critics says the inverted pyramid news story is “old news.” TV and broadcast media deliver news much faster then newspapers. Therefore newspapers should not be as concerned with getting information to readers quickly; instead they should focus on conveying information more completely and more accurately.

In order to form an opinion you have to look at the benefits of this structure.

First, it allows the reader quick access to important information. They can then judge for themselves if it is relevant and if they want to continue reading. Without a clearly defined ‘lede’ readers would have to read the majority of the piece to discover if it affected them.

Magazines generally don’t require their pieces to be written in inverted format; but you have to consider: a reader knows the type of stories in the magazine when they pick it up. They are reading because they are already interested in that topic.

Newspapers, on the other hand, cover a wide variety of news. If a story started out with “Even in the West, the scandal would be juicy” (Newsweek, 1/28 p9) it would be much more difficult to establish if the topic was one of interest to a reader. We don’t know from that opening sentence that the story is about newscaster Hu Ziwei denouncing her husband publically for an affair at a gala for the Chinese State-run TV network’s Olympics coverage. It could just as easily be about anything scandelous, being done by anyone anywhere (outside of the “West”).

The format also allows for easy editing. Because important information is listed at the top, editors can assume that information at the bottom is ‘less important’ without having to know everything about the topic. It also allows a reader to move easily and quickly through the article.

Now, the big question is how do TV, Radio and other broadcast media influence all this?

My opinion is they haven’t. TV, Radio and other broadcast media may deliver news quicker – but TV and Radio news shows run at certain times, while a newspaper can be picked up at any point during the day. Newspapers can be referred to multiple times. They can be skimmed. TV and Radio broadcasts require the viewer or listener to watch/hear the whole program. Often, individual stories are only given short time slots, and if you miss it it’s gone. Newspapers allow readers choices. They are tangible. You can cut out a favorite or interesting story: you can’t do this with TV.

I don’t think there is anything to be gained by giving up the inverted news format, except that writers could be lazier. It would be easier for them to just organize their stories any which way. Readers would lose the ability to quickly skim the tops of articles to decide what interested them.

I think that if papers gave up  the inverted structure they would be giving up the one advantage they have over other media forms. Readers LIKE having choices. They like being able to skip things that bore them to tears. They like being able to read the story about their neighbor’s cousin’s sister now and the story about Iraq later. The strict structure of newspapers gives the readers options – it is the newspaper industries biggest strength.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Writing for the Media

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