Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Paper chase

You may know of the "inverted pyramid" method of constructing a news story in print. The writer puts the most important information at the top of the story and introduce the rest of the information in diminishing order of importance. It is standard practice in newspaper journalism. It is useful to the reader because he can leave the story at any point and understand it. It is useful to the sub-editors because they can cut a story from the bottom to fit the space available on the page, without having to make judgements about the importance of information to include.

It is also useful to sensationalists. It is generally assumed that most readers do not get to the end of the story and that the readership halves with each successive sentence. It is not too difficult to arrange your story so that important information is at the bottom, which most readers will not reach. That way, you can them outraged, even though your story has no substance.

Take, for example, this NZPA story. It starts with "National is again questioning why World War II heroine Nancy Wake has been ignored in the Queen's Birthday honours." It goes on to suggest hypocrisy on part of the Prime Minister before soliciting our admiration for Nancy Wake by listing her heroic feats and getting our sympathy by mentioning her frail health.

Only at the bottom does it mention why Nancy Wake is not getting an award: she left New Zealand at the age of two.

With thanks to Sam

1 comment:

Sam Finnemore said...


I also admire the way newspapers often reprint what is essentially the same story day after day, by adding sentences at the top as "important" personages comment on what they saw in the paper the day before... and so on, ad nauseaum.