[101 W3-L1] News Story Structure & Link Journalism


An effective news story must contain:

  • The Headline
  • The Lead (Introduction)
  • The Body
  • The Tail (Conclusion)

The Headline

The Headline is an attention-grabbing sentence that is typically 6 to 8 words or less. While it should be simple and direct, it can also be witty, tantalizing, striking, or mysterious in order to draw readers in. It should be primarily be composed of Nouns, Verbs, and Adjectives. Commas can be used instead of the word “and”.


  • Milk Truck Strikes Senior Citizen, Geese Escape
  • Geese Terrorize City, Elderly Victim in Critical Condition
  • Senior Citizen “Goosed” in Milk Truck Smash-Up

It is important to keep in mind who your audience is when determining The Headline.

The Lead (Introduction)

The Lead is the most important part of your story and follows after the Headline. A good lead paragraph will answer the 5 W’s and the H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) and thus summarize the story. Unlike an opinion piece, a hard news story contains only the facts so that it remains unbiased. Do not exaggerate and do not add your opinion to a news story.


An elderly man was severely injured after a milk truck struck him at a traffic light on the corner of Lake and Swanearly Saturday morning.



The Body

The Body supports the lead and, in the inverted pyramid style, presents the facts in descending order of importance. It can include quotes of experts, officials, or eyewitnesses to increase credibility

In the example above, we do not yet know who the elderly man was or why the milk truck struck him. These finer details can be included in The Body. If we know who he is and why it happened, we can report it. If these things are currently unknown, we can report that instead.

Example 1:

Alan Smithee, 73, of Tacoma was listed in critical condition at Seattle Grace Hospital after a Korova Milk Truck swerved to avoid a pair of geese crossing the road.

Example 2:

The unidentified senior, believed to be in his seventies, was listed in critical condition at Seattle Grace Hospital after being struck by a Korova Milk Truck.


Suspected ringleader of the Canadian Geese Cartel, Francois Le Duc.

The Tail (Conclusion)

The Conclusion includes minor details, any follow-up action on the part of authorities, or an appeal for information.

Example 1:

Seattle Police Chief Leland Stottlemeyer is asking anyone with information on the victim’s identity to call the SPD tip line at 1-888-867-5309.

Example 2:

Seattle Animal Control is asking anyone encountering wounded geese to call the them at 1-206-386-7387.

Further Reading

For more in-depth information, download and read McGraw-Hill’s Newswriting Basics in PDF Format.

What is Link Journalism?

“Link Journalism,” a phrase coined by Scott Karp in 2008, is “a form of collaborative journalism in which a news story’s writer provides external links within the story to reporting or other sources on the web.” These links are meant to complement, enhance, or add context to the claims and statements you make in your story so that if a reader wants more information, they can click on a link and get it.

A few key areas where you might want to do that might be:

  • You mention/reference an earlier, related news story.

“As we previously reported back in January, Bieber and Cyrus were seen making out at the same club several times before.”

  • You make a claim or mention a claim made by someone else.

“The new surgical procedure should work well, especially now that there’s plenty of evidence that kittens cure cancer.”

  • You are linking to a file, such as a PDF or MP3, and need to explain what it is.

“The report, titled 101 Ways to Cook Gator Meat, is now available for download.”

A Few Choice Words About SEO

Every website’s ultimate goal is to get eyeballs on the page and that’s exactly what search engines like Bing and Google were designed to do. Following their guidelines, now a necessity for a successful website, is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Better SEO can increase your bottom line ($$$) and help spread your site’s message (i.e. your brand, your philosophy, etc.).

The words you choose to use in your link, also known as Anchor Text, can do two things: They can explain what you’re linking to and, if you choose them carefully, they can give you better SEO.

Here’s a few ideas on how to do that:

  • Make sure your anchor text explains what you are linking to.
  • Make sure your anchor text contains searchable keywords.
  • If your best keywords for anchor text are too far apart, rewrite your sentence to get them closer.

For some of you, this will be natural if you have an affinity with words. For others, it will be a skill you need to develop. Practice, practice, practice!

The Bottom Line on Anchor Text

Q. What is Anchor Text?
A. The visible, clickable text of a hyperlink that directs our web browser to another site or page.

Link Anatomy

Why is Good Anchor Text important?

Short Answer: Because Google says so.

Long Answer: If you want your site to appear higher up in search results (the entire point of Search Engine Optimization), you must follow the rules and best practices handed down by the search engines (primarily Google and Bing) and that includes using proper anchor text. Good anchor text = searchable phrases that relate to whatever you’re linking to.

SEO Answer: Links build “authority”. Search engines like Google will crawl your site, examine your links and other SEO-related attributes, and determine to what extent your site or your page is an “authority” on whatever keywords, phrases, and links you’re using. To determine the relevancy of a link, the search engines will examine:

  • The anchor text of a link
  • The content of the linked page or object.

When choosing your anchor text, ask yourself:

Avoid Bad Anchor Text:

  • Do not use worthless anchor text such as “Click Here“. It is vague and unsearchable and does not explain what you will find if you click on it.
  • Do not use “naked” or “ugly” URLs i.e an HTTP hyperlink without any anchor text.
  • Do not use the same anchor text over and over or insert a half a dozen links in every paragraph as Google will mark you as a “link spammer” and punish your website with worse search results. They may even ban your site.

Rewriting A Story Effectively

To use Link Journalism effectively, you will often need to summarize a story and load that summary with links to other sources giving more details. In many cases, you will be rewriting/rewording content from those sources. There are three primary goals to keep in mind for your rewrites:

  1. Be Brief – Keep it short, simple, and sweet. No more than 3 paragraphs. Use an attractive headline.
  2. Use Keywords – The goal is to get search engines to see your links and “understand” what they’re about. Select keywords and phrases as your anchor text so that someone searching for those words on the internet is more likely to see your website on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
  3. Don’t plagiarize – The original author’s words may not be as effective as your own. Also, taking credit for someone else’s work is both immoral and lazy. Reword the facts of the story so they are effective for your site.

Real World Before Example:

Police have found eleven hidden cameras in a Kansas City women’s apartment. The 25 year old women believes that her landlord, who is also her boss, maybe responsible for the cameras. It is believed that he has been spying on her since October 2013 when her apartment was being remodeled according to WDAF Fox News.The women called the police on Saturday after finding one camera in her smoke detector says the Kansas City Star.

Police arrived and after searching the apartment found ten more cameras hidden throughout her apartment. Officers found a bundle of wires in the women’s closet which led the to the building’s basement where they found seven monitors showing the interior of the women’s apartment. No arrests have been made and the women has moved into a new apartment.

Real World After Example:

Police found eleven spy-cameras hidden in a Kansas City woman’s apartment this week. The 25-year old woman called police Saturday after finding one of the cameras in her smoke detector. After searching the apartment, police found ten more hidden cameras and a bundle of wires in the woman’s closet led officers to the basement where they found seven monitors showing the interior of the woman’s apartment.

The woman believes her landlord/employer may be responsible and that he may have been spying on her since her apartment was remodeled in October. No arrests have been made and the woman has since moved into a new apartment.

Understanding Link Journalism isn’t difficult. Being able to do it properly, however, can be a challenge.