Turning the Journalistic Triangle Upside Down

So we're all familiar with the inverted triangle of journalistic storytelling: Headline at the tip top, followed by lede highlighting key points, followed by the body of the article or story, down near the base of the triangle. And usually this works just fine. Case in point: San Francisco on Fire / The Mayor of the town declares a state of emergency because he has run out of buckets for water. / The population of San Francisco does a bunch of things that we, the writers of this fake article, assume you people aren't going to value very much, so we are placing all minor acts of heroism and pathos further down in the article. The implied message is that they don't matter very much. I recently watched a speech given by Amy O'Leary -- formerly of the New York Times but now with Tumblr, where she talks about the limits of this approach. I also learned recently that the inverted journalistic triangle evolved in the wake of journalists having to file their stories via telegram. Each word cost money, so you had to front load your important facts. But to me - there is something infinitely more appealing about wending your way into a story via the details. So instead of "San Francsico on Fire" you begin with something like, "That morning, Amy O'Leary wondered if the smell of BBQ was really in the air, or part of her lingering memory of last night's bonfire. She hadn't showered yet, and the scent of burned marshmallow seemed to have infused her nostrils. She could still feel the sand in her hair. But no. People were rushing down to the pier. Someone pointed. She felt concern rising around her, and thought then that it might be actual smoke." Maybe it's personal preference - but I'm more captured by details. Details are what make a story compelling. Not to say there isn't a place for the journalistic pyramid. Just to suggest that the facts can be backed into, approached from the side, or tickled from underneath, and they will still be the facts.


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