The Lead

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					The Lead

 Reporting and Writing
 Journalism and Media Studies Centre
 The University of Hong Kong

                                   Kevin Voigt
The Lead
 Direct (hard news) leads usually summarize
  only the most important parts of a story.
  The details are left for later.

 Sometimes,  direct or hard-news leads may
  hint at important or intriguing contents to
  come in the story.
The Lead
    The good hard-news lead meets two

 1) It captures the essence of the event.
 2) It invites the reader into the story.

 Think  of leads as “bait” that determines
    whether readers stay with the story.
The Lead
    Leads are worth your time; reporters will
    try several different drafts until they get the
    one that seems perfect.

 They’ll   be thinking of it as they report.

 Plato  in The Republic: “The beginning is
    the most important part of the work.”
Reporting: The 5 Ws and H
 Who?
 What?
 When?
 Where?
 How?
 Why?
The Lead
 Good reporting helps produce good leads.
  Consider this lead:

A   late-morning fire in the upper floors of an
  18-story housing estate in Pokfulam killed
  three people yesterday.

 It   is perfectly okay, and quite common.
The Lead
   But another reporter asked a fire official to
    describe what the fire was like, and the
    official used the word “blowtorch.”

A    fire roared like a “blowtorch” through the
    upper floors of a Pokfulam housing estate
    yesterday, killing three people.

 Stronger,   visual, same number of words.
Direct Lead
 The direct lead is the workhorse of
  journalism. To decide what is the most
  important part of the story, ask two
 1) What was the most unique or the most
  important or unusual thing that happened?
 2) Who was involved: Who did it or said it?
The Lead
 After   answering those, ask one more:

 What words will help me write the
 strongest, most dramatic lead that my
 material permits?

A  good lead gives you a roadmap to the rest
 of your story.
The Lead
 Typically,  but not always, the direct lead
  contains four essentials:
 It says something specific.
 It says when the event or action happened.
 It gives the source (without necessarily
  identifying it in full).
 It gives the place of the action (as concisely
  as possible).
The Lead
 Other points to remember:
 Attribution can wait, sometimes.
 Avoid long subsidiary clauses or titles.
 Banish jargon and legalese.
 Use a direct structure: S-V-O. Subject, verb
  and object. (Wong [subject] hit [verb] the
  man [object].)
 Time element usually goes after verb.
The Lead - Summing Up
 Decide  the most important news.
 Use strong, dramatic language -- specific
  nouns, strong and/or colorful verbs.
 Go to the heart of the event; give time,
  source, place, but be concise.
 Be accurate and truthful.
The Lead - Length
 The  Associated Press tells its reporters to
  start cutting if their leads run beyond 20 to
  25 words. To find places to cut, begin with:
 Unnecessary attribution.
 Compound sentences joined by but and and.
 Exact dates and times unless essential.
 Long titles.
The Lead -- Length (2)
 Some  leads, if the story is big and the writer
  good, can be long:
 The stock market plunged out of control
  Monday in a selling panic that rivaled the
  Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, pushing the
  Hang Seng index average down more than
  500 points, draining more than $400 billion
  from the value of stocks and sending shock
  waves around the world.
Good Direct Lead
       Four men convicted of murdering a
    German family of four in a frenzied knife
    attack were executed in China yesterday
    despite pleas for clemency from the
    victims’ relatives.

 The   what was different. Concrete, dramatic,
    specific language. Time. S-V-O. structure.
Good Direct Lead
      A LaSalle College physics teacher and a
    lab technician tipped off students about
    questions to appear in an A-level exam this
    year, a court heard yesterday.

 The   who was important. So was attribution.
    S-V-O. structure.
Good Direct Lead

       Jewelry tycoon Tse Sui-luen’s rags-to-
    riches story entered its darkest chapter
    yesterday when a High Court judge
    declared the self-made company chairman

 Who    was important. Place was important.
    Imagery (a bit of a cliché, but sometimes it
    can work). Time element. S-V-O. structure.
Reworking Leads
     The sexual revolution has bypassed Hong
    Kong, according to a survey showing many
    men are still looking for passive, good-
    looking women and women want a man
    with a big bank balance.

 Good   approach, but what about this:
Reworking Leads

      Men want passive beauties for mates
    while women want guys with deep pockets,
    a new survey says.
Reworking Leads
       Apprentice jockey Philip Cheng Cheung-
    tat died at the Prince of Wales Hospital last
    night, 72 hours after suffering massive
    injuries in a race fall at Sha Tin racecourse.

 Does   the job, but what about this:
Reworking Leads
       After clinging to life for three days, an
    apprentice jockey whose horse fell and
    rolled over him during a race at Sha Tin
    died last night.

 Visual;   introductory phrase okay in this
    instance; trims details not needed in the
Reworking Leads
       The head of the hospital authority
    yesterday backed the body that hears
    complaints from patients after it came under
    fire from doctors planning to boycott

 Contains   jargon – backed the body; time
    element before verb.
Reworking Leads
       The Hospital Authority chief voiced
    support yesterday for the agency that hears
    patient complaints after doctors accused it
    of playing “God” and said they will boycott
    its upcoming hearings.

 Eliminates   jargon; adds specific “God”
    charge; puts time element after verb.
Reworking Leads
     Director of Home Affairs Shelley Lee
    Lai-kuen has blamed pressure from the
    Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation for
    violent scenes yesterday morning after
    police seized control of an industrial
    building in Tsuen Wan.

 Long;   unclear; heavy use of official titles
    and names slows the pace.
Reworking Leads
       The Home Affairs director blamed
    Kowloon-Canton railway officials for
    provoking property owners to violence
    yesterday when police seized a building
    slated for demolition in Tsuen Wan.

 Clarity   -- property owners, demolition. Lean
    at outset. And 27 words versus 33.
Reworking Leads
        There was a rush to buy pre-sales flats
    at two developments yesterday despite
    recent drops in the stock market and rising
    oil prices.

 “There   was” is almost always avoidable.
Reworking Leads
         The pre-sales action for flats at two
    developments was feverish yesterday
    despite the slumping stock market and
    rising oil prices.

   Stronger, quicker.
Reworking leads
        There should be more frequent checks
    on civil service housing benefits to prevent
    the possibility of abuse, a legislator-elect
    recommended yesterday.

 “There   should” also can almost always be
Reworking Leads
     More frequent auditing of civil service
    housing benefits yesterday will prevent
    abuse, a legislator-elect said yesterday.

 Simple,   direct, concise.
Same Story, Different Leads
 Here’s how it was in one newspaper:
     The deputy head of Inland Revenue was
  arrested and appeared in court with her
  husband yesterday over allegations she
  swindled the Government out of more than
  $330,000 in housing allowances.

 Tight,   terse and telegraphic.
Same Story, Different Leads
 Here’s how in another:
      Deputy Commissioner of Inland
  Revenue Agnes Sin Law Yuk-lin and her
  husband appeared in the Eastern Magistracy
  yesterday to face charges that they deceived
  the government into paying them more than
  $335,000 in housing allowances in the
 Heavy at the outset; 8 words longer.
A Lead Contest
    Which one is better?

     The Airport Authority’s acting chief
    executive was axed yesterday to make way
    for new blood after he failed to win an
    internal struggle to retain his position.
A Lead Contest
        The Airport Authority has appointed a
    businessman with no airport management
    experience as its next chief executive
    officer. He will replace Bill Lam Chung-
    lun, who was seconded from the
    Government by Chief Secretary for
    Administration Anson Chan Fang On-Sang
    in January 1998.
A Lead Contest
  No contest.:
 The Airport Authority’s acting chief
 executive was axed yesterday to make way
 for new blood after he failed to win an
 internal struggle to retain his position.
Summing up a good direct lead:
A  lead that gives the most important point.
 A lead that is concrete, specific, concise,
  active and visual.
 A lead that is accurate, honest and readable.
 A lead that takes you into the story.

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