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The Concise Encyclopedia of Communication by Wolfgang Donsbach

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Narrative News Story

John Nerone

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

The term ‘narrative news story’ refers most broadly to any sort of nonfiction storytelling, but more specifically to a → news story that begins with an anecdote rather than a summary lead and then is organized in temporal sequence rather than either by inverted pyramid style or analytically (→ News). Narrative news has a long history, an interesting connection with literary history, a vibrant present, and a hopeful future.

Many of the earlier formats of news were narrative in form. Ballads and newsbooks dwelled on spectacular events and told their stories from beginning to end. Newspapers also featured items in narrative style. Early newspaper content tended to be composed by printers, and stories appeared in vernacular form (→ Journalism, History of; Newspaper, History of). This form, which takes so long to get to the point, became cumbersome by the mid-nineteenth century. Three developments encouraged a less intuitive style: pictures, popular journalism, and bureaucratic efficiency, which in turn promoted the ‘inverted pyramid style.’

The ‘story model’ of journalism competed with an ‘information model’ that came to rely on the inverted pyramid style (→ Objectivity in Reporting). Although it became common only in the 1890s, examples of the inverted pyramid style appeared earlier in newspapers in items like the US Civil War dispatches. Designed for efficiency, it became the preferred style of ...

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