Ever struggle with writing the first sentence of a news story?
When you’re finding it tough to get your thoughts down on paper, the first sentence can often seem impossible. This is especially true in the pressured atmosphere of news writing. You need to be quick, truthful, and engaging. No pressure!
A carefully crafted first sentence can grab a reader’s attention and immerse them in the story. A bad first sentence, especially in the online era, can cause the reader to switch attention to something else, or even head to the comments section to provide some ‘intelligent and balanced’ feedback on your work!
So how do you get it right? Of course, in an ideal world, you’ll be writing for a publication with a clear style guide, and an editorial team will be ready to assist you. Often, especially online, this isn’t the case.
To help you out with the first sentence of your next news story, we’ve gathered up some inspiration. Read on to discover some example first news story sentences from a variety of publication types.
Respected News Publication – Examples Of First Sentences
Although increasingly rare, serious news publications dedicated to principled journalism still exist.
We have a lot to learn from these institutions, and this is true for first sentences.
Here are three example first sentences from respected news publications from across the political spectrum, along with some notes on how you might channel them into your own work.
“At 12:42 a.m. on the quiet, moonlit night of March 8, 2014, a Boeing 777-200ER operated by Malaysia Airlines took off from Kuala Lumpur and turned toward Beijing, climbing to its assigned cruising altitude of 35,000 feet.”
This story is about the vanishing of flight MH370, one of the biggest mysteries of our time. How can this example of a serious news first sentence inspire us when writing our own work?
- Detail. The precision of the numbers used in this opening lend the story a sense of authority and detail. Using the exact time, rather than an approximate one, instantly prepares the reader for a precise, factual read.
- Evocative. The use of phrases like “quiet, moonlit night” adds some evocative description to this opening. The combination with the precise language is powerful. Readers are both descriptively and intellectually engaged from the offset.
- Informative. The use of informative language manages to answer the key questions of “what, when, where, how” within a single sentence. This is a key aspect of respectable news writing.
“There are four main types of Americans fighting on the ground in Syria: special forces soldiers, CIA agents, Islamic extremists, and anarchists.”
Mother Jones uses the opening sentence above to introduce its in-depth exploration of the complex situation in Syria. So what can we take away from this opening?
- Surprising. The contrast between the word “Americans” and terms like “Islamic extremists” and “anarchists” creates a sense of surprise and intrigue.
- Outlining. By reading about “four main types” in the opening sentence, the reader is given a taste of what to expect in the rest of the article.
- Engaging. The use of phrases such as “fighting on the ground” and “CIA Agents” give a sense of excitement to the article. Given its two hour read time, it’s essential to grip the reader as early as possible.
“The California sun caught the light in Bonnie Colwell’s long, honey-blond hair as she stood in the gravel commons of Sierra College.”
The opening sentence of LA Times’ longform article on The Golden State Killer sounds like it could have come from a fictional thriller. So what can we learn from this style of opening sentence?
- Location. By talking about California, we instantly know the location of the story. More than that, the mood of the scene is conjured up as “California sun” has certain connotations in the minds of both readers.
- Visual. The visual language in this opening, including references to “sun” and “honey-blond” lend the opening an immediate visual power. They also tie in less obviously to the topic of the story, namely The ‘Golden State’ killer.
- Suspense. Readers of this opening know they are reading about a notorious serial killer. The tranquil image takes on an edge of tension and worry as a result, somewhat like the setup scene in a serial killer movie.
Entertainment News – Entertaining First Sentences
“When you enter the gated confines of the Hidden Hills, California neighborhood where Scott Disick lives, it feels a little like driving onto a Hollywood studio lot left over from the 1930s.”
GQ has covered entertainment and men’s lifestyle topics for decades, focusing on an upmarket, aspirational readership. What can we learn from this opening sentence of a Scott Disick profile?
- Second person. The use of “you” transports the reader directly into the story. This is suitable for the intimate type of profile piece this sentence opens.
- Suitability. GQ is known as an aspirational publication. By mentioning “the gated confines of the Hidden Hills”, an area known for celebrity, the aspirational nature of the story is reinforced.
- References. By drawing upon cultural images such as “Hollywood” and the “1930s”, readers automatically make associations between the story they are reading, and the cultural archetypes they have in their mind.
“Expedition: Robinson,” a Swedish reality-television program, premièred in the summer of 1997, with a tantalizing premise: sixteen strangers are deposited on a small island off the coast of Malaysia and forced to fend for themselves.”
The New Yorker isn’t your typical entertainment publication, but there is a lot to take away from its opening sentence exploring reality TV.
- Informative. Straight away, the reader is informed what they are reading about, and given context such as time and place. These things are vital for entertainment news stories.
- Alliteration. Phrases such as “sixteen strangers” and “forced to fend” give the introduction a punchy feel.
- Intrigue. With entertainment news, the story is often told within the first sentence, not giving readers much incentive to continue beyond the start. In this story, a sense of curiosity as to how the “sixteen strangers” pan out is created.
“There’s no good, normal way to say this, but: Russell Crowe once purchased a dinosaur head from Leonardo DiCaprio for the bargain price of $35,000.”
Vogue is known for its high-fashion, aspirational content. But what can we learn from this entertainment piece opening sentence?
- Celebrity. Like it or not, much of the public like celebrities. Dropping names such as Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio early on appeals to the Vogue readership.
- Surprise. A dinosaur head? Being sold by two celebrities? The surprise factor is ramped up from the get go here. Readers are immediately aware this isn’t an average celebrity story.
- Escapism. For most Vogue readers, dinosaur heads and casual purchases of $35,000 aren’t in their everyday experiences. By offering something outside of their everyday lives, entertainment news stories provide valuable escapism.
Sports News – First Sentences That Knock It Out Of The Park
“A boy and his father walk out of a basketball game, hand in hand, into the California night, and the little one poses a question: We won the game, but why is everyone so mad?”
Bleacher Report helped to modernize and disrupt the world of sports journalism. In its profile of coach Steve Kerr, Bleacher Report Magazine gives a few pointers as to writing effective sports news opening sentences.
- Personal. It can be hard for fans to relate to the millionaires that make up pro sports. But a boy and his father walking out of the game? That’s very relatable. Sometimes, a touch of the personal can make your sports news stories more effective.
- Emotional. The use of “the little one” is clever. It adds an emotional edge to the story which might not otherwise be there.
- Lack of resolution. This opening sentence is a clever device. It sets up the story in a way which makes the reader keen to get answers.
“As the 2017 spring season wore on, it became increasingly difficult to score against one of the four clubs in the softball league at the federal prison camp in Cumberland, Md.”
Sports Illustrated have a long record of providing quality sports news to their readers. This sentence opens a story mixing aspects of crime and sports news. What can we learn from it?
- Mixing expectations. At the start, the sentence reads fairly conventionally, like a run of the mill sports story. The mention of the “federal prison camp” adds a twist.
- Context. By providing both time and place, the reader is able to immediately gain the context of the story to come.
- Interest. By stating that “it became increasingly difficult to score”, readers automatically want to learn more about why this is the case.
“My first exposure to the precarious social status of the professional field-goal kicker came unexpectedly, at a game between the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 8, 1970”
Play Magazine by the New York Times is known for offering quality sports news, and this story from Michael Lewis, of Moneyball and Blindside fame, is a fine example. What can we take from its opening sentence?
- Topic. The sentence “precarious social status” immediately sets the tone for what’s to come. We know this won’t be about kickers in general, rather their status in particular.
- Credibility. We know from the use of “my first exposure” that the author has firsthand experience of what he’s writing about. This is a lot more readable than someone speculating based on secondhand information.
- History. Lewis’ story was published in 2007, but its opening sentence mentions 1970. This gives the story a sense of weight and legacy which wouldn’t otherwise be there.
Closing Thoughts On News Story First Sentences
Thanks for checking out examples of different ways to start a news story.
No matter what type of news you are writing, you never need to feel stuck for inspiration on how to start.
If you’re writing a fresh style of news article, and aren’t sure of where to start, or are simply feeling blocked, try not to worry.
By studying the best publications out there, and analyzing what they do, you will be able to come up with something that’s more than good enough for your own news content.