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A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos

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Afta Nafta, Lafta; Free Traders Exult

Headlines and the Inverted Pyramid

The phrase inverted pyramid attracts the eye of a mathematician. Unbidden, the formula 1/v =1/[⅓ π r2h] comes to mind. In journalism, of course, the notion refers to the standard practice of beginning a news story with a headline, then a lead paragraph or two in which the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions are briefly answered, followed by the body of the story, the most salient details first. If a new idea is introduced later, its development has this same inverted-pyramid structure: a smaller headline, followed by a lead, and then more details. The advantage of this structure is that the story may be truncated anywhere, its end cut off for typographic or other ...

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