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News style

News style is the prose style of short, front-page newspaper stories and the news bulletins that air on radio and television. It encompasses not only vocabulary and sentence structure, but the order in which stories present information, their tone and the readers or interests to which they cater.

Specifically, news writing strives to be intelligible to the vast majority of potential readers, as well as to be fair, balanced, engaging and succinct. Within the limits created by these goals, news stories also aim for a kind of comprehensiveness. They attempt to answer all the 5 W's: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? The point is not comprehensiveness per se, but to satisfy reader curiosity. Journalists try to anticipate readers' likely questions and answer them.

Table of contents
1 Language
2 Structure
3 Feature style


Journalistic prose is explicit and precise, but it does not 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 avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph (called an "echo"). Most importantly, they use neutral or nonjudgemental language. Journalists view non-neutral words and unattributed statements of opinion as "editorializing" or failures of objectivity.


Teachers often describe the organization or structure of a news story as an inverted pyramid. In essence, a journalist top loads the essential and most interesting elements of his or her story. Supporting information then follows in order of diminishing importance.

The most important structural element of a story is its lead (or sometimes spelled lede), which may in fact be all of a story that many people will read. The lead is the first sentence, or in special cases the first two sentences. The top-loading principle applies especially to leads, but the unreadability of long sentences constrains the size of the load. 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 he or she has to work with.

While a rule of thumb says the lead should answer most or all of the 5 W's, few leads fit all of these in. If they did they would either be tedious, opaque with jargon or too long.

The second paragraph is a fine place for vital information that does not appear in the first. At the very end comes the non-vital material.

This structure enables readers to quit at any point and still come away with the essence of a story. It allows individuals 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 editors and other news staff to quickly create space for ads and late-breaking news simply by cutting paragraphs from the bottom ("cutting" literally, at the papers that still use traditional paste-up techniques). The structure frees editors to truncate stories at almost any length that suits their needs for space.

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

Feature style

In fact, news stories aren't the only stories 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, at least most of the time. Instead of offering the essence of a story up front, feature writers typically attempt to lure readers in.

A feature's first paragraphs often relate an intriguing moment or event. 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 lead, a billboard rarely gives everything away. This reflects the fact that feature writers aim to hold their readers 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 they put more personality in their prose. Feature stories close with a "kicker." In feature writing it's always a mistake to end by simply petering out... like this.

See also: Wikipedia:News style