Back when I slung words for a living, I spent as much time as anyone lamenting the inverted pyramid. It’s part of the newsroom culture to deride the beast as soul-destroying, not-real writing and just plain ugly.
But I’ve crossed over to the heretical side when it comes to the combination of summary lede and facts in descending order of importance. I still don’t think it’s art (although, in the hands of an artful writer it can be), but I appreciate it more and more for its simplicity.
Because we’re immersed in a flow of information, there are times — many times in fact — when, as a reader, what I want are the facts, quickly and compactly. I don’t care about setting, atmosphere or even emotion. It’s the who, what, when and where that matter most in much of the news. With an inverted pyramid story, I can get that and move on.
This doesn’t mean I don’t want thoughtful analysis, immersive journalism, well-wrought turns of phrase. It also doesn’t mean that I want a web full of inverted pyramid stories, any more than I want a web filled with narrative journalism (which often reads as contrived) or any of the other possible forms for storytelling.
As people increasingly seek out news, and as the concept of single source or single authority gets increasingly weak, the need to hook us with clever ledes or writing tricks goes away, and the value of quick, compact, well-presented basic information increases, at least when it comes to a lot of what we’ve traditionally defined as news.
The inverted pyramid, it runs out, isn’t the devil’s spawn after all. It’s just another tool for storytelling and one that I think editors and reporters may need to spend a little more time exploring.