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When Ledes Kill…. 

Ok.. this is a joke on the old teases- like 'when sneakers kill…'. 
I couldn't resist!  And please note: I prefer spelling 'lead'- eg. 'lead line'- as 'lede' to avoid confusion in print.
Moving on: Our job as journalists is to discover and report news.  If you're anchoring it's unlikely you've done the discovery- but it's certainly your job to know the story so that you can share it with us from a base of intelligence and context.   
We like to start with strong ledes.  The measure of a strong lede is based on journalism.. not on your ability to be clever or glib.  If you want to write for Colbert or Stewart or Letterman- that's great! Their jobs often look like fun- but we've chosen to report all the serious stuff- before it's converted to wry-ness.
Here's a lede that had me thinking 'uh-oh'.  The second sentence explained it.  My doppelganger News Coach cop wanted to issue a warning.  Here's the violation:
"The next story could be a jaw-dropper for some.  Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando will soon close the "Jaws" ride for good. "  Hmm: jaw/jaws.. dropping.  Maybe I'm losing my sense of humor or appreciation of creativity? 
Sloppy writing can be as perilous as a grizzly.  One morning I woke up to a radio warning that "grizzlies" have been spotted in suburban New Jersey.  Now this could be dangerous.. but I suspected that a naïve  writer thought a 'grizzly' was a cute pop-substitute for bear.  By trying to be folksy- a dangerous, non-indigenous type of bear was substituted for the more benign 'black bear'.  Please double-check your accuracy if you attempt to be glib.  
My latest, most complex violation came from an anchor who read the lede to his next story: "They say that music can soothe the savage breast".  Please never­ write 'they say'.  Who says? Where's the attribution?  (William Congreve: "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast").  The anchor looked awkward and hesitant.  Another reason for always reading your script in advance!  My advice- if a lede gives you pause to evaluate: knock it out.  A) it's rare that we ever feel 100% comfortable with someone else's writing… and B) I don’t' believe that having to trudge through a wince-worthy lede is written in anyone's contract.  The story was about music therapy for cancer.  The lede was a literal 'match' of sorts but I personally think it was pushing way too hard.
If you're in a time crunch.. or if you believe a story begs for a lede that you just can't come up with- don’t sweat it! You'll never be faulted for writing a short, factual first sentence.  And when it comes to serious stories- it's the only way to go.    

Previously featured on the Radio Television Digital News Association as the News Coach blog series.


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