Archive for the ‘Leads’ Category

Go deeper, longer when developing feature leads

October 23, 2007

Slow down. Breathe. Okay, now you’re ready to tell us a story in a much more relaxed and confident manner, a story where we are drawn in right away (“Once upon a time..”) and one where conflict and tension abound (“he held the knife over the child’s head”).

In non-deadline stories, we should not rush to tell every major detail as we do in breaking news, or chatter like a small child who seeks to tell everything in one lengthy, breathless sentence. We can move more slowly in non-breaking news writing. We can introduce a character, a compelling plot line, or reveal conflict — the same elements you’ll find in any good story.

Consider the following story:

Martina Celerin started out as a scientist, not an artist.

The visiting artist gave a lecture at the Tarble Art Center Monday night that highlighted her work.

The Coles County Spinners and Weavers Guild sponsored the event.

This writer jumped into the story much too quickly. We get a very brief introducton before the writer abruptly leaps into the fact this person spoke at an event. You can slip that in later. (There’s also no need to cite an event’s sponsor.) At events, your job is to find a good story, trend or angle. News rarely breaks at these events, so approach these stories like features. Call experts ahead of time, and phone other sources right after these events. Do not just act as a stenographer, repeating whatever anybody says at these meetings and events. Check out the page on the right (Covering Meetings) for more tips and suggestions on turning event stories into news features.

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Don’t write general, vague leads

October 10, 2007

We need to lead with specific details, breaking news and compelling stories. We are not writing composition essays; rather, we should engage the reader immediately. That means introducing a specific person, not writing “some” or “many people” in a lead. And that means getting right to the point as soon as possible.

Here are two leads we ran today that needed some revising. The first started a story on birth control, which has some other reporting problems that I e-mailed to the staff.

For many students, college is a time to meet new people and have new experiences.

The second lead introduces an editorial that, unfortunately, delays its main argument.

With recent concerns about violence on and near campus, it pays to take a look around the city of Charleston.

We could have introduced someone who takes birth control in the lead for the news story, offering insights as to her choices. Or, we could have led with some news related to birth control. Unfortunately, the story did not have a solid news peg, nor details from various women across campus who take birth control. For that matter, we did not have enough expert opinions, nor did we dig into issues related to birth control, like high blood pressure, the pressure to have sex, etc. The story was too general. The lead reflected that. Editors, please hold these stories until we have enough details. These stories are certainly more challenging to develop and write. Let’s hold onto them until they are ready to publish.

And let’s make sure we get right to the point in our editorials: “Charleston needs more lights on streets for safety reasons.” Then, cite your reasons. And make sure we research the topics thoroughly through archives, news sources and interviews. Typically, we should report on a topic first, then follow up the news story with an editorial.

Great leads can be found in the second graph

October 2, 2007

picture-14.pngSome of the best leads are buried in the second graph, sentences that pull in the reader immediately. Frequently, writers have difficulty forgetting the clunky way essays and compositions are taught in English courses. Unlike English, do not offer a general statement for a newspaper story lead. But, like fiction writing, grab readers quickly with compelling news or an unusual, interessting story. Later, you can add a nut graph that is similar to a thesis statement.

Consider a lead we published today about the anachronistic fighters (above). The opening sentence is rather general, but the second sentence describes someone who seems a little odd, something that will draw in readers. If you see this, delete this opening graph. Then, build on the opening idea in more depth before heading into the nut graph.

Here’s a possible revision:

When he slips on his “tabard,” a long, loose garment traditionally worn by knights, Rutishauser is known as “Ventus.”
Ventus is Brant Rutishauser’s fighter name and is Latin for “storm.” And Ventus likes to slash and fight and kill, unlike his alter ego.
Fortunately, his sword is foam and his kills are fake. But that does not mean he has less fun. …