Friday, November 12, 2010

International Broadcasting & The Inverted Pyramid

We know that international reporting is important. Not just how much but the quality of the reporting as well. According to Powers and el-Nawawy, the manner of international reporting has the potential “to make international conflicts more difficult to resolve.”(el-Nawawy 2009) This, instead of what could be the ultimate potential of international reporting, which they describe as: “The global news media fostering engagement and understanding between geographically distant and culturally diverse publics.”

How much does this gap between the potential of international reporting and its current reality have to do with how we are training journalists? Writers and reporters rely on the Inverted Pyramid style of writing for newspaper and broadcast, especially in the hard news style. This format top loads the pertinent information so that copy editors can cut paragraphs from the bottom up of the story if the space or time requires it. The who, what, when, where, and why are shoved into the leading paragraph and supporting or flushed out in the second and third paragraphs. The rest is there for support.

So where is the room for contextual background in this format? There’s not, typically. As humans, and throughout most people’s education, the narrative format is the style in which we are used to being introduced to new information. “Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away…” We’re used to the set up first. The background information before we get to the main plot. That’s how we are used to getting drawn into a story.

Thus is the Inverted Pyramid actually hurting international reporting? Are journalists are missing out on the teachable moments because of the style in which they are trained? Particularly on more esoteric topics like international politics or economics, where perhaps national audiences are less familiar with the subject, would a little background information first allow international reporting to grow its audience? Does a story with no context lose its potential audience right away because they have been given no set up? Do national audiences tune out because they have been given no way to relate the story to their own lives or given new information in a narrative format with which they are familiar?

If so, the problem in international reporting has an attainable solution. Change the way journalists are trained. They are all good writers. Give them the room to write tell the whole story.


el-Nawawy, Shawn Powers and Mohammed. 2009. Al-Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue? Media, War, and Conflict 2 (3): 263-284.

1 comment:

  1. You ask an interesting question -"is the Inverted Pyramid actually hurting international reporting?" My first response would be that yes, journalists are missing out on teachable moments which can be used to further educate populations on world views/cultures and contexts. However, I then thought about the idea of writing for an audience. When we are speaking in classes or giving presentations, we know that we are surrounded by colleagues that for the most part should be familiar with the terms and ideas presented; therefore, we do not need to spend time teaching, but can simply have a conversation. Journalists are writing for a particular audience -two that I can think of actually. The readers who do not care about the context and want that simple explanation of the story; and the readers who are informed and already are knowledgeable on the context of the stories they read. The journalist in this case is just stating the simple facts and allowing the reader to get from it what they will.