BEYOND THE INVERTED
New leads, new story architechture
Basic news leads
The delayed identification lead
Faulty wiring most likely sparked the blaze
that claimed the life of an elderly
Murfreesboro man last week, the city's
arson investigator concluded Monday.
Other styles of leads
Richard Leakey likes to tell about the day in 1950 when he was a 6-year-old whining
for his parents' attention. Louis and Mary Leakey were digging for ancient bones on
the shores of Lake Victoria, but their little boy wanted to play. He wanted lunch. He
wanted his mother to cuddle him. He wanted something to do. "Go find your own
bone," said his exasperated father, waving Richard off toward scraps of fossils lying
around the site.
What the little boy found was the jawbone - the best ever unearthed - of an extinct
giant pig. As he worked away at it . . . he experienced for the first time the passion of
As a true anecdote, this lead takes the form of a short narrative with a
beginning, middle and end. The kicker, analogous to a joke's punch line, wraps up
the story and makes a point central to it.
http://www.people.vcu.edu/~jcsouth/par/topic10/leads.txt, Jack Hart, Editor and
They pulled the car to the side of the road, turned
off the motor and waited silently as the memories
washed over them in a series of gentle waves . . .
A narrative lead simply launches an action line. It's
not part of an anecdote, necessarily.
But it puts central characters into a scene and
begins telling the story that pits those
characters against some kind of complication.
A woman with tormented eyes talks to herself as she
plays a battered piano in Ward D's dayroom. Other
psychiatric patients shuffle on the beige linoleum or
stare from red-andgreen vinyl chairs. Scene-setters
open with description. They may contain some action,
but the main point is to give a sense of place
important to the story's focus.
This story described conditions at a state mental
hospital. So a description of those conditions was
an apt way to begin.
Significant Detail Leads
Hidden beneath a heap of inner-tubes in a tiny
storeroom on an island in the middle of the Vistula
River is the statue of Lenin that stood for decades
inside the Gdansk Shipyard. As you might expect,
this story explored the continuing influence of
Communism and central planning on the
operation of the shipyard and the economy of
The statue of Lenin - hidden, but still in the
neighborhood - perfectly symbolized the story's
Scene wraps or gallery leads
A man claiming to be a Catholic priest sits in a Santa
Claus suit in a wheelchair outside a Southeast
Portland supermarket, collecting money for the "Holy
Order of Mary Inc." Across town, a supposed South
African visitor . . . launches into a complicated tale
that soon has a Portlander withdrawing $2,000 from
the bank . . . Elsewhere, a boiler-room telephone
sales company. . .
Scene-wraps illustrate trend stories. They show
that the same thing is happening in several places.
Because they consist of a series of pictures, they're
also called "galleries."
The Single-Instance Lead
For five days, Alice's husband, high on drugs,
threatened to kill her. He hit her and abused
her. The single-instance lead uses one
example to illustrate a larger topic. For that
reason, single-instance leads are also called
In this case, Alice's story was a gateway to a
larger story on a new shelter for battered
In Michael Crichton's previous novel, Jurassic
Park, a tropical island has been transformed into a
zoo whose denizens are dinosaurs brought to life
by a group of greedy scientists who have been
Word play is essentially lighthearted. Word-play
leads therefore work best on less-than-serious
stories. They're popular in sports and
entertainment, but they can succeed at grabbing
and delighting readers in other forms as well.
Writing the nut graph – Chip
It justifies the story by telling
readers why they should
It provides a transition from
the lead and explains the lead
and its connection to the rest
of the story.
It often tells readers why the
story is timely.
It often includes supporting
material that helps readers
see why the story is
Wall Street Journal style
Ken Wells, a writer and editor
at The Wall Street Journal,
described the nut graf as "a
paragraph that says what
this whole story is about
and why you should read it.
It's a flag to the reader, high
up in the story: You can
decide to proceed or not,
but if you read no farther,
you know what that story's
At The Philadelphia
and editors called it
the "You may have
wondered why we
invited you to this
Blacksburg, Va. -- High
on a mountain
crews blast through
solid rock on a 20hours-a-day rush
schedule to build the
first two miles of an
expressway that, for the
next few years, will lead
only to a turn-around.
But for promoters in this
town, that's of little
concern. Dubbed the
"Smart Road" and
designed to double as a
site, this federal-state
project shows how a little
"pork" tucked into a
federal transportation bill
can buy a whole hog for
Berry and Lee are victims of a new urban weapon
in South St. Petersburg: Super Soaker water guns
-- high-powered, bubble-shaped, neon water guns
that can extend to three feet and hold up to two
gallons of water. They tell stories of guns filled
with bleach, hot pepper and even garlic and say
that neighborhood youths have taken the game
too far. This summer has seen an explosion of
Super Soaker use on the South Side, say
residents, local retailers and police.
Write a simple anecdotal lead and
BURBANK, California – North Korea released two
American journalists Wednesday after Bill Clinton
successfully sought their release as part of a
While in real reporting you shouldn’t create facts,
to help with this lead, try to imagine a scene from
their capture or captivity that could be used an
anecdotal lead, i.e. seeing President Clinton.
A rewrite of Euna’s book’s first
As the soldier pulled Euna Lee toward North Korean territory,
she suddenly remembered that she had telephone numbers
written on a piece of paper in her coat pocket. It was
information that, if it fell into North Korean hands, could
endanger many people in China and South Korea.
She slipped her arms out of the coat and left it on the ice.
Such was the beginning of the ordeal that eventually lead
Lee and fellow journalist Laura Ling through140 days of
captivity, something both would describe later as the
worst time of their lives.
Write a lead for the road trip
Here's a quick way to produce a nut graf for your next
story: Make up your mind what the story is about
and why people should read it -- and then type
that conclusion in one or two sentences.
Experienced reporters say they find it helpful to
constantly write and rewrite the nut graf through the
course of reporting the story. Doing so tends to reveal
holes earlier in the process and helps you avoid too
many intriguing but tangential side trips.
Summary lead with
most important facts
to least important.
Y Sparkle Glass
(also known as Martini
glass or hourglass)
Key facts in inverted
Chronology of events in
Often uses circle style
The Road Trip Assignment
Goals of the Assignment
Cultivate observation skills
Develop a sense of curiosity
Chronicle sight, sounds and feelings
into a story
Learn to describe without relying on
adverbs and adjectives
Discover a new place and find out
the story behind the place
Learn the human story of events,
places and things
Practice use one of the leads and
story forms discussed today.
Over the course of the next week,
take a road trip to some place:
Find an interesting story and write it
up in lab. You may use an inverted
pyramid-style lead or a delayed lead
with a nut graph. Be sure to get some
good quotes. Practice your
interviewing skills. Look for news,
using one of the news criteria
introduced in the text.
Write 300-350 words for this
assignment. Keep it to about one and
one-half pages, double-spaced.
Tips for the Road Trip
Practice using active voice. That means incorporating verbs
that create pictures in people’s minds.
Avoid adverbs and adjectives unless they provide an
additional meaning to the noun or verb that’s not there. For
example, don’t use “very” as in “very hot.” Things are either
hot or not.
Describe people doing things. Describe action.
Describe sights, sounds, textures and smells… paint a word
Don’t wait too long between your observation and your writing
it down. The less time that passes, the more accurate your