LEADS LECTURE by chenboying


News summary leads Delayed leads

So you want to be a communicator? Let’s start at the beginning …

OK, so what’s the first thing you know?

The first thing you know is … Ol’ Jed’s a millionaire, of course. For a news writer, the first thing is the lede. Or, the lead if you prefer that spelling to the archaic journalistic usage.

 The lede is where the news judgment game for writing a story begins.  It is your introduction to the world of the inverted pyramid.  It is the first step in that mental triage game where you have to assign value -- weight -- to words and facts.  What is the news here?  What do my readers want to know?  Remember that a key element of news value is conflict -- you have to make sure it is clear what the conflict is and who the players are on each side.

Good writing is:
– Clear – Compelling – Accurate – Fair – Focused – Efficient

Note the resulting acronym. If you want to be a good writer, this is the CCAFFE to dine at.

The lede is a brief, compelling summary of what the story is about. Note: The ―compelling‖ part can be interesting or important or both. It is often called the nut graph, the sentence that gives the story in a nutshell. In English class, it would be the thesis or focus sentence. In news summary stories, the lede / nut graph is nearly always the first paragraph. It puts the news right on top. An example of this style of lead …

News summary leads
ZIKIM, Israel (AP) - A Palestinian rocket exploded in an Israeli base early Tuesday, wounding more than 40 soldiers as they slept in their tents and drawing calls for a major military operation against militants launching rockets from the Gaza Strip. CONROE — An 18-month-old girl was injured Monday after she fell out of a moving car in a parking lot, police said. CHICAGO —The Chicago Cubs got 17 hits during a onegame stopover at Wrigley Field, helping Ted Lilly win his 15th game and beating the St. Louis Cardinals 12-3.

Delayed leads
In stories that use any of a variety of ―attention getter‖ devices as a set-up, the nut graph might be placed in paragraph 2 or farther down into the text. These types of stories – sometimes simple and offbeat but often more complex on profiles or investigative pieces – might use a creative one-graph opener or require several graphs to deliver an anecdote. Some examples of the latter style of leads …

Lead example
REDONDO BEACH, Calif. (AP) – He flashed. She snapped. Police developed the case from there. A flasher pleaded guilty Wednesday and got two years in jail after the woman he exposed himself to photographed him in the act with the camera she happened to be carrying. Prosecutors accuse Larry Thompson, 38, of numerous incidents fo exposing himself to female motorists over a three-month period last summer. In one incident, a woman was so startled she caused a minor accident on a local freeway.

NOTE: The wordplay using photography terms is the attention-getter here. The actual nut graph is in paragraph 2.

Lead example
From Rick Bragg, Pulitzer winner at the New York Times, covering the conviction of bomber Timothy McVeigh: OKLAHOMA CITY – After the explosion, people learned to write lefthanded, to tie just one shoe. They learned to endure the pieces of metal and glass embedded in their flesh, to smile with faces that made them want to cry, to cry with glass eyes. They learned in homes where children had played, to stand the quiet. They learned to sleep with pills, to sleep alone. Monday, with the conviction of Timothy McVeigh in a Denver federal court, cheers and sobs … (nut graf continues)

Lead example
From a Chronicle story on the popularity of the color green: It’s a hue so red hot. Not too soft, not too loud.

Dr. Seuss would surely be proud.
His favorite for eggs is getting its due. In politics, social commentary – really it’s true. And just when you think everything has been seen, Heinz has come up with a new ketchup that’s totally green.
The New York Times version? In a move to raise sales of its ketchup, H.J. Heinz plans to introduce a new version today that will be bright green and is intended to appeal to children. … accurate, but yawwnnnnn

… and one more
WASHINGTON (AP) - A judge who lost a $54 million lawsuit against a dry cleaner over a missing pair of pants continues to press his suit.

He’s still trying to get the problem ironed out …

Two Basic Categories


There are any number of lede devices, but in the print medium, these devices fall into two basic categories: – News summary – Delayed Lede


A direct, straightforward approach that distills out the most important or interesting elements of the story into a few words. It is often one sentence; two at most. It’s a mini-inverted pyramid story. It should be clear and compelling, making it easy for the reader to discern conflict. Nearly all news summary ledes contain a time element reference.

An indirect approach that utilizes a variety of creative devices that place the nut graph deeper into the story. Anecdotal ledes, often seen in national publications like Readers Digest and Parade magazine are used to personalize a story, to give it a human face. Delayed ledes sometimes are merely one paragraph of wordplay; other times, several paragraphs set the stage for the nut graph.

You can boil them down to the ever popular five W’s

who, what, when, where, why (and how)


All of those elements don’t need to be in the lede. (Often, some of that information isn’t even available.) Important does not always mean interesting; and interesting does not always mean important.

 Decide which are the most critical elements. Remember:


Looking at the 5 W’s and H

First, determine the tone of the story.
– Is it offbeat or humorous ? (like the Highway Flasher?)

– Is it neutral ? (like an advance on a city council agenda?)
– Is it tragic ? (like Oklahoma City?)

The Who
– The celebrity / notoriety factor is a definite reader hook. This is Immediate identification vs. delayed identification. There’s a big difference between Bush declaring war and me declaring war. – Use names and titles when the subject is well-known (may be a slight gray area). – When the subject is not well-known, use a general title of some other identifier. These are called blind ledes. (―A Houston man was arrested and charged today…‖). – The ―who‖ is essential for attribution. – Make sure the identifier is appropriate to the story. Former Marine, Vietnam veteran, black principal,

The What
– The what happened is often the most critical element. – In a sports story, the ―what‖ is often the score. – The ―what‖ can also reflect conflict, and conflict makes for an excellent lede device.

The When
– The time element is an absolute must for news summary stories. – Using ―today‖ is OK, but AP prefers you use the day of the week rather than ―yesterday‖ and ―tomorrow.‖ – The time element could become a focal point for lede use -- a few years ago, the U.S. Senate gave themselves a pay raise just before adjourning at midnight. – The action was too late for East Coast news outlets, which gave the action a somewhat sinister appearance.

The Where
– Gives the reader a sense of place, and provides a level of significance. – What happens in our backyards generally gets more attention than what happens in Timbuktu.

The Why
– It could be the most compelling element, but often is unknown at the outset. – Why a plane crashed or why someone was murdered could supersede the other questions. – Why we went to war in Iraq continues to be debated.

The How
– Can be related to why – Often speaks to the process involved in what happened – The ―how‖ details could be the most compelling element. How did the Mets get Carlos Beltran and not the Astros? How did that seat belt bill become law?


Lets add a few more …

What’s next -- where the action goes from here could be the most critical or interesting element. Where does the court case or legislation go from here? Who are the teams in the Super Bowl? What can the Rockets do to improve next year? So what -- tell the readers why this matters to them, why should they care. Give them some perspective. What’s going on here besides what’s going on here? Some folks want to change the nationality requirement for seeking the presidency -- so what? It helps Arnie (which also allows the writer to get some celebrity into the lede). How many -- how many folks are affected or how many times something has occurred may be a key element in a lede. Also, how much – as in dollars – could be the focal point.

HOUSTON 1 (AP) 2 -- First lady Laura Bush 3 made her first visit to Houston, 4 post Hurricane Katrina, on Monday, 5 serving chicken to volunteers, talking to evacuees about their ordeal and praying with community leaders. 6

KEY ELEMENTS 1. Dateline (Houston) 2. Wire credit (AP) 3. Who (Laura Bush, no need for a blind lede here) 4. Where (Houston) 5. When (Monday) 6. What happened (serving chicken, talking, praying)

Note that the ―what‖ element is not that significant here. The most important elements are ―who‖ did it and that it was the first time Laura Bush had visited Houston after the hurricane. The ―why‖ element is not given -- doing so might force the writer into the opinion arena -- but most readers can probably determine Bush’s reasons on their own.

DATELINES -- Help you avoid clunking up your lede with telling where something happened. Check the dateline section of your AP stylebook for style and to see which cities stand alone in datelines and body copy. Datelines tell the reader where the story originated; the writer was there. Datelines often include the wire service identifier. At the Chronicle, any story originating outside Harris County gets a dateline. Be aware of exceptions to the stylebook like Cleveland, Ohio, and Cleveland, Texas, etc. Examples: WASHINGTON (AP) – Now is the time …. JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Now is the time … YOKOHAMA, Japan (UPI) – Now is the time …

ATTRIBUTION -- often a key element, particularly in crime stories or other stories with sensitive elements.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — An alcohol-fueled argument between two friends degenerated into a fight in which one man bit off the other man's nose, police said. (attribution shows police are making accusation, not the news writer)


QUOTES -- Quotes can be an effective device in ledes (the inaugural address for example). Generally, partial quotes are preferred to full quotes -- depending upon length, significance etc.
BLACKWOOD, N.J. – A New Jersey woman says she is ―embarrassed and ashamed‖ that she had to abandon her 44pound cat after her home was foreclosed recently.

Multiple Element Leads
Including additional elements …

Also known as the ―wrap‖ lead. See Descriptive Leads handout.

 Sometimes you have to combine two or more of the elements from the 5 W’s and H etc. list.  They might have equal value or be necessary for
clarity. Here’s a lede with the “what” and “so what” elements prominently placed: CenterPoint Energy approved a fuel cost adjustment on Monday that will reduce residential gas bills, meaning Houston residents will save about $8 a month.

PBS Film
Reporters talk about the news summary lead

Leading the reader to the nut graph


 Feature ledes don’t follow the one-sentence, oneparagraph approach of hard news ledes. They are more like the opening of stories in books. They set the direction and tone of your story.

 They are more conversational, and personal
pronouns like ―I‖ and ―you‖ are found. what I mean?

 They sometimes use sentence fragments. Know
 There are more references to pop culture and
feature creative devices like alliteration or onomatopoeia or homonyms or rhyme.

 If it’s well-written, anything goes. (Different styles


 Question ledes -- use sparingly. In news stories, 

 

readers will expect the answer to come next – why not start there instead? A suspense/mystery story (Who really killed Paul McGrath?) is different – make the reader wait for the answer. Descriptive or color ledes -- paint the scene or situation Ironic or surprise ledes -- Imagine the Laura Bush lede from the viewpoint of a volunteer who was served chicken by the first lady Anecdotes -- Going from the specific to the general Teaser / suspense -- The ―what will happen next‖ factor makes them keep reading (See Alternative Ledes electronic handout)

Hybrid news summary / delayed lede
Here’s a lede that breaks out of the news summary Formula and ventures onto delayed lede turf. The time element is missing, and the first clause is a ―shock and awe‖ surprise device. But it also conveys that researchers have reached new conclusions and what those findings are. From the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE Octopus sex is simple, dull and quick – at least that's what scientists used to think. Instead, it turns out to be complex, sophisticated and rife with petty rivalries.

News summary lede vs. delayed lede
NEWS SUMMARY APPROACH WASHINGTON (AP) -- John G. Roberts put on the robes as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time on Monday, becoming only the 17th person in the nation’s history to do so. Note: 1. The dateline and wire credit 2. Roberts has been in the news, so there is no need for a ―blind‖ lede 3. Use of time element 4. Ending clause gives significance, answers ―so what?‖ question

News summary lede vs. delayed lede
DELAYED LEDE APPROACH WASHINGTON (AP) -- John Glover Roberts Jr., who argued more than three dozen cases before the Supreme Court as an appellate court lawyer, got to see a new side Monday. He took his seat -- a leather chair -- as chief justice. Note: 1. Contains some elements of a news summary lede 2. Significance and what happened is a bit later in the story


 The point where a story shifts gears from the
anecdote -- or whatever device is being used -- to the thrust of the story is called ―the turn.‖

 It could be the nut graph, or the nut graph could
follow shortly afterward.

 Note the example in extended lede handout
BE CAREFUL - The turn can be a delicate joint. The set-up has to flow into the rest of the story. Zapruder film anecdote

Using anecdotes as a device
Think of an anecdotal lead as if you're a tourist guide choosing between two pathways for readers. The correct one allows readers to walk through your story and its theme easily and with few obstacles. The wrong one provides an immediate obstacle for readers, excites them before they fall off a cliff into a valley of boredom or leaves them wondering what happened to the person who was introduced at the beginning of the pathway. To help you in your decision, here are some tips on when to use or not use an anecdotal lead:

When to use an anecdotal lede
Use an anecdotal lead when it:


Provides a quick link to the main theme of the story. Ask whether the anecdote adds or carries the main theme or focus of the story. And whether it flows into your connecting parts. If so, use one. However, be sure that you get to point of the story quickly, usually within the first three or four paragraphs. This is especially true when your story jumps after only a few paragraphs from Page 1 or a section cover with several stories on it. Illustrates a major point in your story and provides meaning to the reader until the story's end. This occurs when the person portrayed in the anecdote is described in or talks about a problem or issue. The story then features experts talking about the problem and then returns to the person in the anecdote and his or her response or reaction to what's being done or discussed.


When not to use one …
Do not use an anecdotal lead when it:

 

Lures readers into a story by dangling a great item in front of them and then defrauds by dropping the person in the great item from the rest of the story. Takes too long to get to the main point or nut graph of the story. With a long anecdote, the reader may begin wondering why it is so important and wander to another story or elsewhere. Oftentimes, the writer is too wordy or hasn't rewritten the lead often enough to shorten the anecdote. Editors then must work with the reporter to rewrite it, delete it or use it somewhere else. (Also, if the anecdote is well-written but too long, it could be used as a sidebar or as an example later in the story.) When it actually takes away from the focus or theme of your story. Sure, it's a great anecdote, but does it really add to your story or detract from it? If you're unsure, talk with your editor or a peer before using an anecdotal.


How long should they be?

 Some editors have tinkered with various
formulas for lede-writing.

 Experience indicates that ledes should be
no more than 35 words. (That is not an absolute, but it’s a good guideline. )

How long should they be?

Shorter is best. One of the best-known ledes ever written has only 10 words:
In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth.

How long should a lede be?
Newspapers love studies. Here is one that measured readers’ attention spans. It’s a good guide for lede lengths. – The study found that most folks will tackle the first 50 words or so of a story, and unless ―hooked,‖ they begin to drop out.

– Then, after the next 50 words, another significant portion falls out.
– And still more after the next 50. – Readers who made it past the first 150 words or so generally read the entire piece.

How long should they be?
Here’s a lede from a story about the funerals after the 1937 school explosion ago in New London, Texas, that killed nearly 300 children: They’re burying a generation today.
Those five words succinctly capture the immenseness of that tragedy.

How long should they be?

Here is another about very discreet moonshiners in Pennsylvania with an almost lyrical quality:
The moon still shines on the moonshine stills in the hills of Pennsylvania. Wonderful word choice and only 13 words.

How long should they be?

Boxing trainer/cut man Jerry Boyd, who wrote “Million Dollar Baby” under the pen name F.X. Toole, began one of his stories with this: I stop blood.

How long should they be?
Here’s one of only 15 words from the congressional hearings on steroids use in baseball. WASHINGTON (AP) - Separated by only a few feet, Roger Clemens and his accuser were never further apart.

– Writing Ledes – Tennis Ball Ledes – Testing the anecdotal lede – Straight ledes and alternative ledes – Extended delayed lede – Alternative lede styles

• Blue Bell • 10 Ledes for grade

Blue Bell Exercise
In class assignment: Write a basic (5W) news summary lede and also write a delayed feature lead from these elements. 1. Dateline is Washington 2. Wire source is Associated Press 3. Time element is Thursday (or today, depending on when story will appear -- today on wire; Thursday for newspaper) 4. Blue Bell will now be able to sell its products in Japan after a company there agreed to discontinue a lengthy legal battle over a trademark dispute. Until the agreement was reached, Blue Bell was barred from selling its products in Japan.

GO TO THE WEB SITE FOR HANDOUTS AND THE GRADED EXERCISE -- 10 ledes to be repaired or rewritten -- Use 35-45 words maximum as a guide -- Due next class


Ledes exercise tips
 
Make sure it's a complete sentence -- ledes ARE NOT headlines. Use a dateline when called for. Check the AP Stylebook under the dateline section for form and content.

  

Use attribution (police, reports, surveys, polls, research etc.), but rarely begin the lede with it. Unless the person/source has more import than what is being said, the attribution nearly always works better at the end.
Use a time element in a news summary lede, but only rarely do you start the lede with the time element. It can go in the middle. Avoid using unfamiliar names; use generic descriptors in a blind lede. Read the exercise material carefully – There’s a lot of stuff that really shouldn't be in the lead. Much of the material could go lower in the story.


On some, you can try a creative delayed lede. Use good judgment though.
Look at the ledes in your daily paper or on an online news site for guidance.

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