Brosse St. News Desk

Journalism terms and definitions


Lead  The first paragraph or first several sentences of a newspaper story (sometimes spelled lede)

Hard lead   A lead that reports a new development or newly discovered fact. See also soft lead.

Summary lead   The first paragraph of a news story in which the writer presents a synopsis of two or more actions rather than focusing on any one of them.

Multiple-element lead   The opening paragraph of a story that reports two or more newsworthy elements.

Immediate-identification lead   The opening paragraph of a story in which the “who” is reported by name.

Delayed-identification lead   Opening paragraph of a story in which the “who” is identified by occupation, city, office, or any means other than by name.

Anecdotal lead   A newspaper story beginning that uses humor or an interesting incident about a person.

Descriptive or scenic lead   A lead that concentrates on a description of an environment, or paints a picture for the reader.

Impact lead Gives the result, or effect on people, of a news event. Usually used in a news story.

Soft lead   A lead that uses a quote, anecdote or other literary device to attract the reader. See also hard lead.

Second-day lead Advances the story by reporting a new event in a continuing story (for example, the second death as a result of a fire yesterday).

Advance  A report dealing with the subjects and issues to be dealt with in an upcoming meeting or event.

Analysis A story that looks more deeply into a current news event and provides context, various opinions of experts or critics and possibly speculates on the future.

Angle The focus of, or approach to, a story. The latest development in a continuing controversy, the key play in a football game, or the tragedy of a particular death in a mass disaster may serve as an angle.

Background  Information that may be attributed to a source by title, but not by name; for example, “a White House aide said.” backgrounder Story that explains and updates the news.

Background (or on background)  Also known as “not for attribution.” Information that can be attributed to “a police department official” or “a player on the team” who is not named.

Backgrounder  Story that explains and updates the news. Source: News Reporting & Writing (Sixth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 1999. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

Beat  A reporter’s assigned area of responsibility. A beat may be an institution, such as the courthouse; a geographical area, such as a small town; or a subject, such as science.

Bias  An inclination that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation. In journalism, political bias is the most common complaint.

Closed-ended question   A direct question designed to draw a specific response; for example, “Will you be a candidate?”

Cutline  The caption that accompanies a newspaper or magazine photograph. The term dates from the days when photos were reproduced with etched zinc plates, called cuts.

Deadline  The time by which a reporter, editor or desk must have completed scheduled work.

Deep background   Information that may be used but that cannot be attributed to either a person or a position.

Editorial An article in a publication expressing the opinion of its editors or publishers. In newspapers, it typically appears on the editorial page and is edited by the editorial page editor.

Feature  Extended articles or items about events, persons or circumstances that go into more detail than most.

Freedom of Information A law that makes it easier to obtain information from federal agencies and access to government records.

Hard news  Coverage of the actions of government or business; or the reporting of an event, such as a crime, an accident or a speech. The time element often is important. See also soft news.
Human-interest story   A piece valued more for its emotional impact or oddity than for its importance.

Hypothesis  In investigative reporting, the statement a reporter expects to be able to prove, as in, “The mayor took a bribe from that massage parlor.” In an analytical story, the statement a reporter will explore in the story.

Information graphic   A visual representation of data.

Invasion of privacy   Violation of a person’s right to be left alone.

Inverted pyramid   The organization of a news story in which information is arranged in descending order of importance..

Investigative reporting   The pursuit of information that has been concealed, such as evidence of wrongdoing.

News story  A story that emphasizes the facts, often written in inverted pyramid style.

News value  How important or interesting a story is. not for attribution Information that may not be ascribed to its source..

Not for attribution  Also known as “on background.” Information that can be attributed to “a police department official” or “a player on the team” who is not named.

Nut graph   A paragraph that summarizes the key element or elements of the story, or explains the focus. Usually found in a feature story, or a story that is not written in inverted pyramid form.

Off the record  Usually means, “Don’t quote me.” Some sources and reporters, however, use it to mean, “Don’t print this.” Phrases with similar, and equally ambiguous, meanings are “not for attribution” and “for background only.”

Op-ed page   The page opposite the editorial page, frequently reserved for columns, letters to the editor and personality profiles.

Open-ended question  One that permits the respondent some latitude in the answer; for example, “How did you get involved in politics?”

Profile  A story intended to reveal the personality or character of an institution or person.

Public figure  A person who has assumed a role of prominence in the affairs of society and who has persuasive power and influence in a community or who has thrust himself or herself to the forefront of a public controversy. Courts have given journalists more latitude in reporting on public figures.

Quote  As a noun, the term refers to a source’s exact words, as in, “I have a great quote here.” As a verb, it means to report those words inside quotation marks.

Sidebar  A secondary story intended accompany a major story on the same topic, on the same page. A story about a disaster, for example, may have a sidebar that tells what happened to a single victim.

Soft news  Stories about trends, personalities or lifestyles. The time element usually is not important. See also hard news.

Sources  People or records from which a reporter gets information. The term often is used to describe persons, as opposed to documents.
Transition  A word, phrase, sentence or paragraph that moves the reader from one thought to the next and shows the relationship between them.

Update  A type of follow-up story that reports on a development related to an earlier story. Also called a second-day story.

* Sources for definitions:
Web site, ASNE (American Society of Newspaper Editors)

News Reporting & Writing (Sixth Edition) by the Missouri Group.  Copyright 1999. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

The Washington Post’s Policies on Sources, Quotations, Attribution, and Datelines



  1. Thnx

    Comment by Nombuso — March 26, 2015 @ 8:50 am | Reply

  2. I’ve found the information useful to me as a first year journalism student.

    Comment by caswell mthombeni — March 5, 2017 @ 11:19 am | Reply

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