Talk:Inverted pyramid

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Suitability of the metaphor[edit]

IMO the described usage is misleading because in this case the metaphor is supposed to depict quality (importance) by means of quantity (size). IMO when visualizing a pyramid a more readily impression is quantity into quantity: on the top of the pyramid a *few* but *important* things; at the bottom of the pyramid is *multitude* of less important things.

The pyramid metaphor is a popular depiction of society, e.g., king&queen (important few) on top and plain folks (or slaves or whoever) on the bottom. On the other hand, inverted pyramid is tip *down*, hence the clash of the two metaphors.

Well, journalists, who probably coined the term, are hardly known to be experts in science :-)

mikkalai 25 Nov 2003

  • I agree completely, but that's the way it is, as Walter Cronkite would say. It would be interesting to see if anyone has found a more descriptive metaphor. Actually I came here looking to add a "Spiral approach" article, which is a similar concept in teaching, where you first learn broadly about a subject with generalities, then go into the details. I like that because too often the details get you so bogged down that you miss the really important things, so it's also like the phrase, "the critical few", or "the tyranny of the urgent", or "can't see the forest for the trees". I knew it would relate to journalism and fit in here. Also, the more I think about that one, it's also not the best metaphor. Something like 20 questions describes it the best, where you communicate as if you could be cut off at any time, which relates very well to the telegraph origin. So it seems like an upright pyramid makes more sense. Anyway, if anyone has any ideas on what should go into a "Spiral approach article, please add something here or let me know (or however it should be done - I'm still new here. Can you create a talk page before the article page for brainstorming?. Spalding 12:08, Sep 12, 2004 (UTC)
I'm a journalist and I've never heard of spiral articles. But the hourglass format might be similar: a summary, then a narrative.Maurreen 14:45, 13 Sep 2004 (UTC)
I just compared a spiral approach to learning to the inverted pyramid. It's not a journalism term at all, more of a teaching one that I remember from school textbooks. I'm an engineer, not a teacher.
I agree, in fact—not knowing the phrase before—my first impression was that article describes the wrong order of transferring information (an anti-pattern) :)) --Kubanczyk 22:31, 9 November 2007 (UTC)
Back to the suitability of the inverted pyramid metaphor: As Spalding says above, "that's the way it is", the article explains how the expression is used and understood by writers. But it still needs proper citations please. A verified WP article is about what is, not the way anyone would like it to be. When I worked as a daily newspaper reporter the inverted pyramid was regularly referred to and well-understood, and very helpful as shorthand (pardon the pun) to focus on what was important first, so a) I can vouch for its use this way in practice, and b) I agree the earlier explanation was unclear - it needs to emphasise importance. The inverted pyramid image works on two levels: the top of the triangle=the top of the story, and importance=weight=size, so importance=weight=size at the top. The issue of "quantity" is not of concern here (but interestingly, importance is the criterion for distinguishing the "few" from the "multitude" anyway.) As these issues appear to have been outstanding for a long time, I've tried to address the concerns above, and below, in clarifying the concept and its usage in my bold rewrite.
As for finding "a more descriptive metaphor", that would be like saying let's find a more descriptive metaphor for the computer "desktop" - despite all the valid, logical objections (there's no desk, etc.), it has become part of our shared culture. Language rarely evolves from deliberate attempts to change it. -- Bricaniwi (talk) 01:05, 2 December 2009 (UTC)


"General Grant and his wife were advertised to be at the theatre this" may be a mistake, or an unexplained demonstration of a telegraph interruption. Badanedwa 08:17, Jun 21, 2004 (UTC)

If you are suggesting the word "advertised" may be a mistake, in those days advance notices of the itineraries of public figures were printed ("advertised") in newspapers. Or if you mean the sentence is a fragment, I think the ... elipsis at the end is meant to show that in the original source the story continues, but only this much has been printed here. I think the final sentence in (the current brief version of) the article implies this: "The transitional sentence about the Grants suggests that less-important facts are being added to the rest of the story." -- Bricaniwi (talk) 01:05, 2 December 2009 (UTC)


I deleted the sentence with Grant (see above) and the hourglass link, because the link did not refer to writing. Maurreen 14:45, 13 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Looks like the Grant sentence was added back, probably because it is referred to later: "The transitional sentence about the Grants suggests that less-important facts are being added to the rest of the story." -- Bricaniwi (talk) 01:05, 2 December 2009 (UTC)

Suitability of the Lincoln story as an example[edit]

The Lincoln story is hardly an inverted pyramid (as described in the rest of the article) but a chronological narrative. Indeed, the most important point (that the president is at death's door) is at the end.

On the matter of the metaphor, maybe news-style is better seen as a pyramid that's actually the right way up. The key facts (the point) are summarised briefly at the start. The detail, which gets less and less crucial and possibly more and more verbose, follows in declining order of importance.

Please sign posts with four tildes so they are timestamped.
I agree the Lincoln story is not as lean or tight a summary as modern hard news stories often are now, but compare it to rambling, descriptive, narrative and POV pre-telegraph styles! The point about the seriousness of the wound is actually in the third par: "The wound is mortal", and repeated in the fourth: "The President ... is now dying." Remember this was written before Lincoln died, so his death was not a fact then, and the writer/editor may have been sensitive about alarming people unnecessarily. Also the (current) sentence in the article immediately following the example story comments on improvements that could be made. -- Bricaniwi (talk) 01:05, 2 December 2009 (UTC)
I was struck by the same thing reading this. Also note that the why is never mentioned at all - indeed, there is no mention of "sic semper tyrannis" or whateverinhell Booth shouted (and the reporters ought to have heard some story). Maybe it's too obvious, or maybe the 7th W there is "whiteout", not sure which. Wnt (talk) 18:15, 21 October 2015 (UTC)

Uncited statement[edit]

"Despite the name, the figure is almost always drawn simply as an equilateral triangle with an apex pointing downward, rather than a three-dimensional pyramid. [citation needed]"

You raise two issues:
1. Yes, this article (still) badly needs citations. Please. The sentence seems to have been modified anyway since you quoted it. (I haven't checked the history.) I suspect it was the editor's own observation and/or helpful guidance to readers, rather than from sources.
2. I've tried to address the issue of how to represent the "pyramid" in my rewrite. My personal view is that the "name" pyramid was never meant literally, so never needed to be 3-D. For the analogy with writing, i.e. a surface with text on it, a simple 2-D shape works best anyway. (But if some artist wanted to work up a full-colour hi-res 3-D image of a physically-precarious upside-down Egyptian pyramid, I could work with that too.) -- Bricaniwi (talk) 01:05, 2 December 2009 (UTC)
Calling for a reference to inverted pyramid being the preferred method of news writers is like calling for a reference to say that people breathe air. The notability of the subject is that the method is just about the only one used by the news, often to great detriment. If someone says (as I am) that IP is a distortion of reality but is used widely, that needs a cite.
Any journalism textbook will tell you that this is what's done. We can find one, but we would not need to be having this conversation, were it not an issue at all.
Re the suitability of the metaphor, the base of the pyramid is not merely big, it's what holds up the rest. That one fact that seemingly holds up the rest of the information, or provides a rationale for doing the story at all, is what goes in the lead. Yet that is subjective and that subjectivity is the concept that needs to be subjected to scrutiny and critique. Dioxinfreak (talk) 19:40, 11 December 2009 (UTC)

Invention of the Telegraph[edit]

This claim is particularly dubious, as what we today call simply the "telegraph" was originally termed the electric telegraph. Semaphore-based telegraphs were in use earlier, starting with the late 1700s. Fell Gleaming(talk) 10:35, 9 May 2010 (UTC)

Much older than you think[edit]

As a rare books librarian, I know this image pre-dates its use by the news media by centuries. In that light, it would seem appropriate to "make room" in the article for its use in colophons - and was only later adapted for news media. The way the article appears now (4 Sept. 2015), it reads as if the design is totally and nearly exclusively part of the news media which it isn't. - kosboot (talk) 16:28, 4 September 2015 (UTC)

When you say "this image" do you mean specifically the upside-down pyramid as a pictoral design and metaphor, or just the idea of organizing information this way? If it's the former, could you point to a source that could be cited in this article? - DavidWBrooks (talk) 00:29, 5 September 2015 (UTC)