Great and Not So Great Leads

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Journalists often spend a large amount of time on their leads; how long it should be, what information it should have, what angle, how to draw the reader in and how to summarize the whole article. It is understandable that this would be a very stressful part of the writing process since so much hangs on it. Below are some great … and not so great leads and what exactly makes them that way.

Great Leads

  • When President Barack Obama mentioned last week that he had picked up a new hobby — skeet shooting at Camp David — it was a surprising disclosure by a president whose main identification with guns these days is his effort to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. (“Obama shoots skeet in photo shoot” by Peter Baker and Mark Landler from The New York Times).

This lead gets us interested in the story and makes us understand why we should care about the President’s most recent photoshoot, which normally a lot of people would not really pay attention to.

  • At the January 30th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the survivor of a gunshot to the head, gave us our marching orders. The United States stands alone in the world in our tolerance of gun violence, but in the wake of the devastating Newtown murders, a powerful group of ordinary Americans across the country is saying no more. This time we want our collective heartbreak and outrage to be followed by real change. (“Our Turn to Say No More — Right Now” by Marian Wright Edelman, from the Huffington Post.)

This opening is very dramatic and intriguing and puts the situation in context with the rest of the world and current events such as the Newtown incident.

This is very specific and tells you the facts immediately, the actual story has enough interest on its own so it is better to just give the audience what they need to know in a timely and orderly manner.

Not So Great

  • The defense attorney for a former local dance teacher on Wednesday convinced a judge to lower his client’s bail to a fraction of what it had been.

This is not good because it does nothing to attract your attention on its own, and does not tell the reader why they should care. When you see the title (“Former PVPA dance teacher Daniel Lozada, facing charges of sending nude photos, providing pot to students, has bail reduced” taken from the Daily Hampshire Gazette by Bob Dunn) you can understand what is going on, but a lead should be able to stand alone as a little nugget of information.

  • During Black History Month, W.E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass are among the people commonly discussed in classrooms across the country and at other events. (“Whose Black History?” by Elaine Thompson from the Worcester Telegram and Gazette).

This anecdotal lead has promise but in the end just seems to fall flat and come off as somewhat boring, it does not show me why I should care, except for the fact that it is Black History Month.

  • On a cold February Sunday at noon, about six locals gathered at the Amherst Town Common and braved wind and occasional snow flurries, taking part in a weekly vigil that has been held on Sunday afternoons in downtown Amherst for 34 years. (“Weekly Peace Vigil draws in locals during cold winter months” by Steffi Porter from the Daily Collegian).

The sentence’s structure is confusing in the way it was arranged and I feel a little reorganizing could really make for a stronger lead.

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