Writing the Body

February 19, 2012 | | 46 Comments

Journalists must provide information to a wide audience, while continuing to be coherent and interesting. To effectively do this, journalists utilize different writing styles—the inverted-pyramid, the hourglass, the focus, and the narrative—depending on the story. While introductory students are commonly taught to rely on the inverted pyramid, as it allows them to decipher between what is and what is not newsworthy, experts utilize all four styles of writing.

The New York Times staff is credited for its ability to write a successful news story, as the staff can interest readers by presenting information effectively. Three articles, written on Sunday, February 19, 2012, convey The New York Times’ ability to grasp readers’ attention and present information. The three articles also utilize dissimilar bodies to present the information, showing how stories can be presented differently.

Kevin Sack utilizes the focus style in his article, “60 Lives, 80 Kidneys, All Linked.” In the focus style, a reporter “begins with a lead that focuses on a specific individual, situation, or anecdote and uses that to illustrate a larger problem” (Bender et al. 214). That is exactly what Sack does, as he opens his story by examining the actions of Rick Ruzzamenti: “Rick Ruzzamenti admits to being a tad impulsive. He traded his Catholicism for Buddhism in a revelatory flash. He married a Vietnamese woman he had only just met. And then a year ago, he decided in an instant to donate his left kidney to a stranger.”

Then, in the nut graph, where the journalist states the “central point of the story and how the lead illustrates that point,” Sack identifies Ruzzamenti’s role in what became a domino effect of transplants, as kidneys were donated to various people across the country (Bender et all 211). In the body, Stack identifies the central point of the story, which is simply the medical significance of implementing such a large exchange of surgeries and the technological advancement that made it possible. Finally, in the kicker, which is the section that “brings the story to a conclusion,” Stack once again refers to Ruzzamenti, as it points out that Ruzzamenti’s kidney now resides in New Jersey, when originally it resided in California.

Conversely, Michael D. Shear utilizes the inverted-pyramid style of writing in his article, “Rising Gas Prices Give G.O.P. Issue to Attack Obama.” The inverted pyramid allows reporters to “arrange information in descending order of importance or newsworthiness” (Bender et al. 203). In the opening paragraph, also known as the lead, Shear addresses the most important aspect of his story: “Rising gasoline prices, trumpeted in foot-tall numbers on street corners across the country, are causing concern among advisers to President Obama that a budding sense of economic optimism could be undermined just as he heads into the general election.” By the end of his story, however, Shear refers to less news worthy information from years earlier: “In the spring of 2010, debt crises in Europe, slowing stimulus spending and weakness in the housing market brought an abrupt halt to a brief turnaround in the United States economy.”

Shear’s use of he inverted-pyramid has some advantage, as it “allows someone to stop reading a story after only one or two paragraphs yet still learn the newest, most newsworthy and most important facts” (Bender et al. 204). However, there are also many problems with the inverted style, as it can be difficult to follow, redundant, and “discourages [reporters] from trying new styles” (Bender et al. 204).

Steven Erlanger, on the other hand, utilizes the hourglass style in his article “Iran Suspends Shipments of Oil to Britain and France.” The hourglass story combines the best aspects of the inverted pyramid style and the narrative styles, as the hourglass story has three parts: “an inverted pyramid top that summarizes the most newsworthy information, a turn or pivot paragraph and a narrative” (210). Erlanger starts by discussing the impact of suspending shipments of oil to Britain and France, as it is the most relevant and newsworthy information. However, Erlanger then utilizes a pivot paragraph to begin discussing the history of Iran’s relationship with both countries: “Britain, France and Germany are also the European nations negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program in the talks that also include the United States, Russia and China, and are chaired by the European Union policy chief, Catherine Ashton.” The most important aspect of an hourglass story is the effective use of a pivot paragraph, which Erlanger seems to have mastered. Lastly, Eranger presents the story in chronological order, examining the history of the three countries, in the narrative.


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