Insights, tools and research to advance journalism

3 story structures

Here are three different strategies for putting together a story.

The hour glass

Writer Roy Clark has identified this structure. It is a hybrid of narrative and inverted pyramid. You begin by telling the news, and then there is a break in the pyramid, and a line that begins a narrative, as in, “it all began when …”

You can begin to turn the characters and plot into something more interesting. And in the end broaden the piece back out and come back to the point at the top. 

Fly on the wall

This approach involves being there with the story’s main characters when the event in question happens. What is the conversation between them? What are their reactions? It may take special access, which requires planning ahead, getting permission, and even special agreements, such as allowing subjects to see a draft of your story ahead of time, but, it may be worth the pay off.

In their own words

For one of the biggest scoops of Watergate, Jack Nelson agreed to have one source tell his own story in his own words. Nelson interviewed him, taped him, wrote the story and then let the source edit and put his own byline.

This guide, like many of the others in API’s Journalism Essentials section, is largely based on the research and teachings of the Committee of Concerned Journalists — a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics that for 10 years facilitated a discussion among thousands of journalists about what they did, how they did it, and why it was important. The author, Walter Dean, was CCJ training director and API Executive Director Tom Rosenstiel formerly co-chaired the committee.

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