What Comes Around, Goes Around – The Inverted Pyramid’s Popularity Soars in a Digital Age

There are instances where a tried and true reporting process can seem stagnant and worn out. One may even feel something is too old school to be relevant in a digital age. However, this is not the case with the inverted pyramid style of news writing. 

The inverted pyramid method of news writing dates back to the invention of the telegraph. When news was sent out over wire, the most important information was placed in the first lines of type. For more information, check out Poynter’s article Birth of the Inverted Pyramid: A Child of Technology, Commerce and History.

The telegraph is now tweets, online newspapers, and status updates. With shorter attention spans and more digital content produced than ever, the inverted pyramid fits modern times by grabbing readers quickly while getting the main point across. 

It also makes for easier SEO optimization because keywords are located in the first few sentences of the article. Search engines will find the work and boost its visibility to those seeking information about the subject at hand. While this structure is often used for breaking news or hard-hitting journalism stories, due to the benefits it has with SEO optimization, it is becoming more and more favored by bloggers and marketing gurus

This style benefits readers, news outlets, and editors alike. Readers avoid confusion by getting the main point of the story in the first sentences. It also saves them time. Do you remember those shrinking attention spans? The way our brains are now wired for fast delivery of information, there’s no guarantee readers finish reading a story. Getting the most important information at the top of the story is more important than ever. With that said, news outlets can deliver more information in a smaller space. Speaking of saving space, editors can cut from the bottom without losing critical facts. 

The inverted pyramid writing style catches the audience’s attention quickly by leading off with important details. As the story continues, that is when more supporting information is provided. 

It may sound easy enough, but writing in this style can be a challenge for new journalism students. That’s where SchoolJournalism can help. Just by having your students read this article, you are helping them take the steps towards learning more about the inverted pyramid.

The first step is making sure the most important information comes first. Which leads us to the lede. A lede is, “the opening sentence or paragraph of a news article, summarizing the most important aspects of the story.” 

The writer’s goal is to get the main points of the story into the lede. Ideally, the writer will answer the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of the subject the article is about. 

Think of it as answering as many of these questions as possible: What happened and who is involved? When and where did it take place? Why and how did this happen? Keep it brief and to the point. You can add details later! 

As you go from the start to the end of the news story, remember that the body of the story contains additional information that is helpful to know, but isn’t as critical as the first section. This is a great spot for those details you didn’t have time for in the opening. However, don’t go wild by adding in information that is totally off topic or unrelated to the lede. That only confuses readers!

Last, but not least, wrap it up neatly with a conclusive ending or a strong quote. No one likes to be left hanging or thinking the story is incomplete. 

There are many ways to conclude an article. One way that seems to be growing in popularity is sending readers elsewhere. If your article is complete and doesn’t need a reiteration of the main point, consider sending the reader to another credible source or giving them a “call to action.” A call to action can empower readers by giving them something to do related to the story. For example, if your news story focuses on the fact a local animal shelter has reduced adoption fees due to overcrowding, conclude with contact information or even a hyperlink to the animal shelter’s website. 

While the following inverted pyramid example may not be the most “exciting” news story to break, it certainly matters if you live in or near Edwardsville, Ill. Shoppers in this midwest town are about to experience some changes! As you read this article, think of how it follows the inverted pyramid method. 

The city of Edwardsville is rolling out a fee on both plastic and paper single-use shopping bags. Edwardsville officials approved a single-use bag fee in grocery stores and other large retail shops back in 2019. It was meant to begin in 2020 but was delayed due to COVID-19. Now the 10-cent fee will go into effect on July 12, 2021.

Edwardsville is the first city in the St. Louis Metro region to implement a fee for paper and plastic bag use at stores. Across the country, hundreds of cities have either already banned or taxed single-use bags in an effort to become more environmentally friendly.

In Edwardsville the new ordinance is a fee, not a tax. According to the plan, it would apply to retail locations with a floor area of 7,000 square feet or greater. The retailers would keep the fees collected.

It does not apply to bags used by customers inside stores for things such as: packaging of bulk items like fruit, vegetables and grain, wraps for frozen food, meat or fish, prescriptions, or bakery goods.

Locations like farmers markets, fairs or restaurants that give out take-out food would also not be required to pay the fee. There will be no charge for a bag if the customer can prove they are participating in the Illinois Food Assistance Program.

The Edwardsville-based grassroots environmental organization Bring Your Own Glen-Ed spent more than a year drumming up public support for a city ordinance requiring stores to charge 10 cents for single-use shopping bags. 

The article presented the most important information first, kept adding more details until it tapered off. The conclusion even included a hyperlink so readers can learn more about the group who fought for this 10-cent charge. If space and time allowed for it, quotes from members of those who support and those who oppose this city ordinance would certainly add to the piece, but for the sake of brevity this article used the inverted pyramid to clearly convey factual information.

To improve your skills with using the inverted pyramid, consider the following exercises:

#1. Find news articles that use the inverted pyramid. Study them carefully. Consider printing them out on paper and highlight the 5 Ws and H as you locate them. Are they near the top? If so, then the reporter used the inverted pyramid.

#2. Have your newspaper staff editor or adviser print out strong examples of news articles that use the inverted pyramid. Cut them into pieces, then mix them up! Ask staff members to put them in order using the inverted pyramid. Consider it to be like piecing together a puzzle. Can they put the article in order from the lede to the conclusion? 

#3. Use this hand out after reading this article to test what you have learned! You can open it as a Google Doc as “read only,” but feel free to copy it and use it with your staff. If you use Google Classroom, you can easily modify it to fit your needs and use it as an assignment, too! 

#4. Start writing! Get out in the field and find something newsworthy to report on. Does your school have a new academic or athletic program or did an existing academic or athletic program get new equipment? Did your community recently embrace the Blessing Box or Little Free Food Pantry movement? Perhaps they are promoting literacy with the Free Little Library? Those were just a few simple ideas to get your brain in gear! 

Go be a news hound and answer those 5 Ws and H! Put together a news story that follows the inverted pyramid that readers will benefit from.