Journalism Basics: How a news story is structured

One of the hardest parts of learning how to write a news story — for any platform — is understanding how each part of the story works and how those parts work together.

Here’s a primer my students tell me is useful:

The top: Sometimes called the lede (or the lead). This is the highest-value real estate you have. If the average reader spends less than seven seconds deciding whether to read a story after reading a headline, this is where they’ll spend that time. If this were actually real estate, this is on beachfront property. It’s valuable and it’s where you can compel the reader to read on or drive them away.

The nut graf: Sometimes called ‘the rat’s ass graf,’ (as in ‘Why do I gave a rat’s ass about this story?’) the nut graf provides context and reasoning for the story to the reader. It implies ‘This story is important because…’ It should be in the top 10 percent – 15 percent of your story. In real estate terms, this is the commercial strip with all the hot restaurants and clubs.  The story and the city just aren’t the same without it.

The body: This is where the quotes and the exposition live. This is the real meat of the story, where the details that satisfy the promise of your lede go. In real estate terms, it’s where most of the people live.

The walkoff: Not every story has a walkoff, but many of the good ones do. What is it? It’s when the curtain drops in the story. In a hard news piece, you might get the second-best quote of the story that sums everything up. In a longer, less hard piece, you might end with a summary statement or an off-rhythm line designed to make the reader think. In real estate terms, this is the nicest mansion in town, the one up on the hill.  But, if you’re story doesn’t have one, that’s OK, too. Many stories just end.