News Leads


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Just some words on writing news leads, part of a lecture in your basic news writing/editing class. Some parts sold separately. Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.

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News Leads

  1. 1. LEADS Beginning of a news story. Grab the reader's attention. Follow the subject-verb-object structure. Should not exceed 35 words.
  2. 2. Types of leads • Hard news lead • Direct or Summary Lead • Summary Lead with Attribution • Delayed-Identification Lead • Impact Lead
  3. 3. Hard news lead • Gives just the details in a straightforward way. • Summarizes the basic facts, the most important points. • Conveys what you learned in your reporting. • More than just an opening to your story. • Must capture the readers’ attention and persuade them to read your story. • Leads are different for every single story.
  4. 4. Direct or Summary Lead • Tells the most important aspect of the story at once. • Conform to this structure: • WHO + (did) WHAT + <WHEN> + /WHERE/ + [WHY/HOW/UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS]* • *Where, why and how are not always included in the lead. They may also provide the focus of hard-news leads.
  5. 5. Summary Lead with Attribution • Gets right to the point. • Usually one sentence, two at most. • First and last words of the lead are critical. • Use active voice rather than passive voice. • Shares who gave the information; adds credibility.
  6. 6. Delayed-Identification Lead • Also a summary lead. • Used when the “who” is not well-known. • Age, occupation (modifier) used in first ‘graph. • Identified by name in the second paragraph.
  7. 7. Impact Lead • Impact Lead – Explains how readers are affected by an issue. • Summary or in a delayed form. • Not in a delayed-ID form, however.
  8. 8. Impact Lead Homeowners whose roofs were damaged during the recent tornado have five more days to apply for a tax extension. New taxes now on the books will have Jefferson County residents digging deeper into their pocketbooks.
  9. 9. • Make sure the lead includes the most important of the five W's and H. • Particularly the “who” (person or thing), (did) what, and when. For a story about a report, never begin with the statement “A report was issued by….”
  10. 10. • In general, keep the lead to 17-35 words. • If your story uses a delayed-identification lead, make sure the lead begins with an identifier (age, location, occupation, or other identifier). • Present modifier in the first paragraph. Identify the person in the second paragraph.
  11. 11. • For an impact lead, the “who” of the lead will be the persons impacted by news being reported. “Students who own cars will have to pay more to park on campus.” • To continue the story, present the rest of your facts in order of decreasing import — mix quotes (direct and indirect), elaboration and background.
  12. 12. Common-sense guidelines • Keep it tight. • Avoid distractions — Goal: Write a coherent lead without capital letters other than the first one. No numerals, no commas and no formal titles. • Set the right tone — Don’t write a flippant lead when covering tragedy. • Don’t bury the lead — Cut to the chase! • Highlight differences.
  13. 13. Common-sense guidelines • Speak clearly — Avoid jargon, acronyms, foreign phrases, abstract concepts, general and vague language. • Use active words. • Be visual — help the reader “see” what’s happening. Paul Roberts looks exhausted. His complexion is chalky, his five-o’clock shadow positively Nixonian, his smart blue suit rumpled, and his stomach, a victim of too many quick and greasy restaurant meals, creeping over his belt.
  14. 14. Common-sense guidelines • Put people first. • Double-decker leads — don’t repeat the first paragraph in the second. A Homewood councilman is shocked and appalled that transportation grants have been cut again. “I’m shocked and appalled that transportation grants have been cut again,” John Richardson said Thursday. • Place the time element with care — If needed, make sure it will sound natural if read aloud. • Avoid the insultingly obvious.
  15. 15. Nut graph • The “so what” paragraph. • Every story must have a nut graph. • Gives a story significance. (Same as a summary lead.) • Should be placed as near to the beginning of the story as possible, usually by the 2nd, 3rd or 4th paragraph. • Spells out the theme or sub-themes in greater detail.