A Word to My PR Homies: On the Inverted Pyramid

Hey, holmes! It’s 9:30 in the morning! For me, that means it’s been a heck of a long night. I’m at Internet Week, and I have a lot of heavy-duty video blogging to do tomorrow. But before I turn in for a couple hours of beauty sleep, I wanted to say hi to you folks and wish you a wonderful day!

And also, I wanted to mention the Inverted Pyramid.

Hokay. So.

The Inverted Pyramid is another old J school technique that makes writing fast, easy, and kinda fun in a game-like way. To paraphrase an article I wrote in the mists of time:

Ernest Hemmingway once called journalism “literature on a deadline.” Why is it on a deadline?

In every story, there is a need to tell the most important parts quickly. The average reader will not sit down and read ReadWriteWeb’s new posts from top to bottom without interruption. We journos need to present the most bare-bones, factual information immediately; and you rad PR pros need a way to have all the extraneous, superfluous information grouped together for quick amputation when necessary. This is accomplished by using a journalistic device known as the Inverted Pyramid. It’s a quick-and-dirty, utilitarian approach; but this is the reality surrounding journalism from print times to present day.

Word to My PR Homies #6: Use the Inverted Pyramid.

With the Inverted Pyramid, the most essential information in a story is put at the very top of the article; this is followed by important but not absolutely necessary information, and so on, until the least relevant facts are grouped together at the very bottom of the article.

Now, we already know about how to write a good, short, info-packed lede. But let’s take a closer look at which elements of the 5 W’s it should contain:

Depending on what information is the most interesting or important, your lede could read several different ways; just remember that the very first piece of information should be the most important thing about the whole story. 

If life was lost, that may be the most important information: “A residential fire took two lives and destroyed three city blocks in downtown Louisville last night.” 

Perhaps human interest provides the most important detail in your article: “A six year-old girl rescued her infant brother from a burning building in downtown Louisville last night.” 

Or, if crime is involved: “An escaped convict is implicated in an act of arson that took two lives and destroyed three city blocks.”

So, you’re going to put the biggest, heaviest bits of news at the top of the Inverted Pyramid. Once you’ve got the most critical parts out of the way (in 25 words or fewer!), write the second paragraph (called the “nut ‘graph”) in a similar fashion. Only with the nut ‘graph, you’ll want to expound just a teensy bit more than you did in the lede. With a two-sentence maximum, tell your journalists the heart or meat of the story in a nutshell. Give them an undeniable answer to every reader’s first question (and the 6th W): So what?

Once you’ve answered the Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, and So What, you’re free to include any other information you’ve got. Textbook factors of newsworthiness are are follows:

Timeliness

Prominence

Conflict

Uniqueness/novelty

Human interest

And yes, that’s in order from most important factor of newsworthiness to least important. What’s happening right now is more important than what’s happening to Sergei Brin is more important than the Thesis guys picking a fight with Matt Mullenweg is more important than an iPhone app for snorting digital cocaine is more important than a doctor using Twitter in the OR.

However, if you’ve got a story about Sergei Brin punching Matt Mullenweg five minutes from right now after a debate over iSnort’s use in an OR, I’d like to see that release.

Ok, I love you guys. I so need to try to sleep. Goodnight!

2 thoughts on “A Word to My PR Homies: On the Inverted Pyramid

  1. Just stumbled upon this blog and I really do enjoy it. It’s great insight from the journalists’ perspective.

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