From being nothing more than a channel of diffusion of information, to being an all-encompassing amalgamation of media that touches practically every aspect of our day-to-day life, journalism has indeed come a very long way. Gone are the days when the sole purpose of journalism was transmission of data to its audience: today, a journalist must also know how to educate, influence, and also entertain, if the reader and readership are to be retained. In today’s dog-eats-dog world, it is but natural for every media house to aspire for the highest level of reader interest, and in the process, sensationalisation and hyping up of news have become commonplace. At the same time, every journalist tries to present his news piece that will make the reader want to stay put in his place, and want to know what comes next. It is this very fundamental concept of Journalism that is at the heart of what is commonly known as the “5 W’s and 1 H” in journalism terminology.
The writing of a news story has to be such that 3 basic points are taken care of:
• The reader’s questions must be answered straightaway.
• The reader must have the liberty to choose what and how much he wants to read.
• The reader must be able find out ‘what has happened’ even if he does not have the time or the inclination to go through the entire article.
The above points clearly highlight the basic tenets that a journalist has to keep in mind while framing a story, and accordingly, the article should be one that shall not only provide the basic information required at the very first go, it shall also be so constructed that after having procured the information that he desired, the reader is free to make a move at any point of time. Therefore, it is considered imperative to try and answer as many of the reader’s questions as possible in the first paragraph itself. This is known as the lead of the story. The lead of the story is its most pertinent part, since it provides an insight into what is coming up, and tells the reader what to expect. It is also that section that provides a basic outline of the entire story, and should therefore have the capacity to satiate the reader’s initial curiosity. This is why the need to apply the concept of the 5 W’s and 1 H arises.
The 5 W’s and the 1 H are the following:
• Who (did it?)
• What (happened/took place?)
• When (did it take place?)
• Where (did it take place?)
• Why (did it take place?)
• How (did it take place?)
It should be remembered that every story has one ‘key idea’. This should be introduced first in the article, and the answers to the above-mentioned 5 W’s and 1 H should follow immediately. It is to be remembered though that it is not obligatory to answer each and every one of these questions in the first paragraph itself, as it might lead to clutter. In such circumstances, the ideal would be to answer the most pivotal 2-3 questions in the lead, only to be followed up immediately in the next paragraph with the remaining answers.
“In any news article, the news is revealed thrice: in the headline, then in the lead, and finally in the body of the article”.
The above statement makes it very clear that the reader has three different options as to how he wishes to imbibe the story, and at the end, he indeed takes it in three times. This is makes it all the more important to write the news feature that will enable the reader to quickly glance through whatever he feels is important, and easily omit the rest. The inverted pyramid style of writing serves precisely the same purpose.
It is very easy to understand the logic behind the inverted pyramid structure: in terms of information, it is top-heavy. This is so that the reader’s curiosity can be satiated right away. This style of writing ensures that the information dissemination happens efficiently in the beginning itself. It also has another major advantage: it separates the truly interested readers from the ones who are just taking a cursory glance. So those that are reading the piece just to have an aerial view of what happened can afford to move on after the lead, as almost everything important has been revealed by then. And if the reader is one who wishes to know the whole story, he can conveniently continue reading beyond the lead. There is another major advantage too: if the news piece is to be altered in the editing room, then it is all the more easy for the editor to cut the story off from the tail-end: it may not be possible to chop in a similar way, a story that presents facts in increasing order of importance, or even maintains neutrality of importance.
It is estimated that almost 95% of the world’s stories can be written in the inverted pyramid style. This makes it very easy for the news writer to keep all types of readers happy.
Leads and Intros:
Most news stories are told in a logical order. This means that the most important fact appears in the lead, regardless of its place in the time sequence involved. Thereafter, the facts are arranged more or less in order of descending importance.
Editors prefer stories using logical organization because they take fewer words and therefore less space and they are more easily trimmed when space is limited. Further, logical organization best serves the busy reader: it tells what he most wants to know right at the beginning.
Logical organization consists of two main parts: lead (also referred to as intros) and body.
The lead makes the point, and the body supports it with solid, factual and concrete information. Since getting attention is the first step, editors put a premium on striking leads. Any device that will make the reader look twice— direct address, a colourful quotation, a question or even a verse— is considered legitimate as long as it doesn’t misrepresent the facts, violate the tone, or distort the overall meaning of the story.
The lead, or intro, establishes the point, the thrust, the basis and the essence of the news or feature at the beginning. In short, the first few sentences in any article or report are critical. Each one must be provocative and compel the reader to continue reading. Without such a hook, or “lead,” one risks losing the reader.
Different types of Leads and Intros:
Informative leads: These leads provide information in a nutshell by addressing the 5Ws and 1H.
Question leads: These leads use the first sentence of an article to answer one of the “w” questions in journalism, who, what, when, where and why. Another question is how, and question leads can use this too. Basically you use the lead to answer one question to make the reader wonder the answers to the rest.
Summary leads: This kind of lead is mostly used in news stories because of the fact that news stories need to be concise, to the point and put the most information into the least amount of words. That’s why with summary leads you summarize the entire article in the lead, or in other words, put the most important piece of information into the first sentence and go from there.
Blind leads: This is a lead where you start off the article by summarizing but leaving out one essential detail, this is done to catch the interest of the reader. As journalists you want people to read and be interested in your work, and in feature writing especially confusing the reader in the beginning is sometimes a very good way to catch their interest. Right after a blind lead you have to clarify the missing piece of info though.
Narrative leads: These leads are another feature type that actually takes you into the mind of the main person in an article. Narrative leads tell a story from a person’s specific perspective; it’s the most classic and in some instances most effective way to start out a feature. Pick a person and start your article out with their story and tie it into the main point.
Quote leads: This is a lead where you start off the article with a quote that expresses the idea you want to get across well. In some newsrooms quote leads are banned because finding the perfect quote for an article is a very challenging task that most newspapers do not have the time for. Articles are written fast and frequently, and finding a good lead is essential and needs to be done very quickly.
Feature leads: These leads are a vital part of newspaper writing. The feature lead permits to take a mundane straight news piece and transform it into a story that captures the interest and empathy of the readers. Feature leads must fit the mood of the story. If you intend to set a particular mood or point of view in a story, your intent or tone should be set at the beginning of the story.
Authoritative lead: This is a lead where the reporter acts like an authority and incorporates an instructive tone in the lead.
Humorous lead: These leads grip the readers’ attention by invoking humour.
Anecdote lead: These leads are commonly used in features. In such leads, a short narrative or case history is picked for its attention getting quality and its ability to humanize the story. It aptly illustrates the general situation.
Direct Address Lead: A question or a sentence is addressed to the reader as if the writer were directly talking to him to encourage him to read and react to the whole article.
Incident Lead: This lead cites an incident to introduce the topic of the article. The incident may be real or fictitious, unlike the news summary lead which should be factual.
Descriptive Lead: This type of lead uses vivid description to hook the reader to finish the article. This type is best used for travelogues and personality sketches.
Staccato Lead: This type uses a series of phrases or sentences that produce a rhythm. It is another dramatic way of introducing the topic of the feature article.
—Be specific and concrete, give a picture.
— Convey energy and action.
— Too much secondary detail
— Abstract and general language