What is a background story ?

A background story is a story in which a journalist discusses the background of the news. The question in a background story is not ‘what happened?’, But ‘how did it happen?’, ‘Why?’ And ‘what are the consequences?’ Background articles can address the most diverse people: from ministers and millionaires to dog owners.

(If you prefer to write a news item, start here – or with this step-by-step plan.)

The term background article is best explained on the basis of an annual news event such as Prince’s Day, the day on which the government’s financial policy for the new year is announced.

Background article indicates the news
Around this day, many news articles will appear with headlines such as “almost everyone is gaining in purchasing power” or “All Dutch people have more to spend next year.” These stories simply describe what was announced with Prince’s Day, or how the government’s budget has fallen out.

Background articles go deeper into the matter. In these stories, you as a journalist provide information and insights that help readers better understand the meaning of a news event.

For example, you interview experts and stakeholders who can interpret the news, you search for figures and scientific studies that provide new insights, or you place a certain event in a historical perspective.

A background story can have countless angles, but not at the same time. Before you start writing, it is important to formulate one key question, which is already mentioned in the first paragraphs. After Prince’s Day, such a question might be “Why is the Netherlands doing so well?”

In such a story, for example, an economist will explain how the Dutch economy is doing well. Maybe an owner talks about a great company that is doing great, or the journalist quotes figures about the increasing number of Dutch people who have become millionaires.

News gets a face
But you can also ask a completely different question about attractive budget figures on Prince’s Day: is the Netherlands in better shape than ever? In a background article with such a key question, very different people are spoken, for example, historians, who compare the current budget of the government with the financial policy of the past.

You can also turn a small detail from a news event into a background story. Perhaps the main message of Prinsjesdag is that everyone benefits, but in the meantime, the dog tax is being increased.

In that case, you might write an article about the question: why does everyone benefit, except the dog owner?

In such a background article, for example, you publish figures showing that it costs the municipalities a lot of money to fine dog owners who do not clean up their dog’s feces. Or maybe you spend a day with municipal cleaners cleaning up poop, or with a dog owner who has money problems and is considering disposing of his dog now that the tax is being increased.

Background story without news
Background articles are becoming increasingly important because the number of news items is increasing sharply. News sites such as Nu.nl, NOS.nl, and Telegraaf.nl flood their readers daily with a stream of news. As a result, many people need stories that explain exactly what that news means. The Correspondent is an example of a journalistic platform that meets this need.

The Correspondent offers almost only background stories and is one of the most popular paid journalism websites in the Netherlands. Here you will find an overview of their most-read stories.

If you read the overview, you will see that not all background articles are about a news event. A background story can also answer a general question that sometimes comes up in everyday life. If the journalist succeeds in answering such a question in an original way, there does not always have to be a current reason for a background story.

Background article makes news
Sometimes a background article about an everyday pressing question can produce news itself. Take this article for example. What do you reveal when you log in to your WiFi network with your mobile phone?

Or: does it actually make sense to press the crossing button at a crossroads as a pedestrian or cyclist?

It is also possible that the journalist sets himself up as a source to make the article more personal. For example, I once made a background story about the question: why do we find it so difficult to start conversations with strangers on the train, and should we not do that more often? Before that, I made a hundred chats with strangers in ten days and wrote about my experiences.

In short: the more original the sources, the better the background article.

If if you were to write the aforementioned example article about dog tax, it might add something if you yourself are a dog owner and describe what you spend on the animal annually.

In fact, if dogs could talk themselves, we would let them speak in a background article.

Background article in short
A background article provides information and insights with which readers can interpret the news, or get deeper insights into questions that live with them.
A background story always has one clear key question.
This key question is always addressed after the first, second or at a most third paragraph in the nutshell paragraph.
A background article is written on the basis of various sources: stakeholders, experts, experiential experts, scientific studies, policy documents, and historical figures.
Background articles are becoming increasingly important due to the many news messages that flood readers.
* Do you want to learn how to write a background article? Then purchase the Journalism Basic Book. In it, writing teachers Henk Asbreuk and Addie de Moor provide an indispensable overview of all the journalistic stories and writing techniques that you need for this.


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