August 2nd, 2016 by Matt Goisman
Structure is critical to journalism. The standard structure is called the “inverted pyramid,” the idea being to have every subsequent sentence be slightly less critical than the one before, so that no matter where the story is cut off – conceivably even after the opening paragraph – the reader still gets all the critical information.
I use the inverted pyramid as a general guideline to how I cover a game, but it’s not the straight decrease in importance you might find in a news story. I start with the most important moment, then work my way forward chronologically to the end as a way to show why that moment was the most critical. If I have background information that I think is relevant, I’ll bring it in early, if for no other reason than to minimize the drier play-by-play.
Features don’t typically follow the inverted pyramid, and every feature is structured slightly different. Some will work chronologically through the subject’s life, others will bounce back and forth between the past and present, while others will introduce a theme and then structure the feature around that.
For most of my features, developing a structure comes easily. But occasionally the story I’m trying to tell doesn’t lend itself automatically to one structure or another. Sometimes the parts of the story are so modular that multiple sequences of events are possible, and a lot of times the best order doesn’t become clear until the whole thing is written.
The last story here – which was good enough to get onto page A1 of a Sunday edition – was one of those “modular” features. I agonized repeatedly over whether certain parts worked better earlier or later, whether transitions successfully got the reader from one section to the next, and if I devoted enough time to all the different elements of the story I knew had to be there.
I’m still not sure if there wasn’t some alternate format that would’ve made my feature even better, but hopefully the effort I put into it comes across to the readers. I genuinely think it’s one of the strongest features I’ve ever written (it’s also one of the longest). Plus, it brings me one step closer to my career goal of covering the Olympics.
Here’s that, plus everything else I wrote in July for the Cape Cod Times.