How to get started writing news story leads.
2. The inverted pyramid Write a terse lead Provide background Present news in order of descending importance Use quotations early and throughout Use transitions Do not editorialize Avoid the end 3. Summary lead or lede Summarizes the news Ws and the H Who What When Where Why How 4. Tips for lead writers Identify the Ws and H. Decide which element is the most important to the reader. Try to stick to one main idea. Write one sentence of no more 35 words. Write in past tense. Use subject-verb-object order. Sometimes the subject lends itself to a lead with flair. 5. Summary lead WASHINGTON The Supreme Court preserved affirmative action in university admissions on Monday by only a one-vote margin but with a forceful endorsement of the role of racial diversity on campus in achieving a more equal society. (New York Times,35 words) 6. Multi-element or double-barreled leads Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh met with one of his lawyers Thursday about his chances of avoiding execution, even as prison officials moved full speed ahead to carry out the death sentence in five days. 7. Pitfalls -- Trying to put the when or time element first and using the exact time, when more general time will do. Example: At 6:15 a.m. today police found a suspect in a kidnapping of a Provo girl. Better: Police arrested a suspect in the kidnapping of a Provo girl early Friday. 8. Pitfalls -- Writing a lead that sounds like a newspaper headline or lead in for a news broadcast (usually in present tense and without articles). Example: Police arrest suspect in Provo kidnapping. Police arrested an Orem man Thursday in connection with the kidnapping of a Provo girl. 9. Pitfalls Buried leads or so what? leads Police Chief John Jones discussed the citys crime problem with interested townspeople at a meeting Monday night. So what? What is the problem? There were more serious crimes reported in Provo last year than during any 12 months in the citys history, the citys police chief said Monday night. (26 words) 10. Pitfalls -- Stating the obvious. Dont just say that something happened, but what was significant about what happened. Example: President Hinckley spoke to a large crowd Sunday and a choir performed during the annual program honoring the Mormon pioneers. Better: Latter-day Saints should emulate pioneer values of courage and integrity, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told hundreds gathered at a fireside Sunday night. 11. Pitfalls -- Using the name of little-know person in a lead. Delay the identification of most people, unless they are well known because of position or notoriety. Example: BYU student Josh Jones faces charges in connection with a hit-and-run accident that caused a pileup on I-15 yesterday. Better: Police arrested a 21-year-old BYU student Tuesday in connection with a hit-and-run accident that caused a pileup on I-15. 12. Pitfalls -- Using a question in the lead. -- Using a direct quotation in the lead -- Try one sentence first. -- Using you in the lead. 13. Pitfalls Too many words In a bold bid to pursue the Republican economic agenda and spur economic growth, President Bush plans to propose a sweeping package that would eliminate the taxes individuals pay on stock dividends, accelerate income- tax-rate cuts approved two years ago and provide $400 rebate checks for middle-class parents. (47 words) Wall Street Journal President Bush will propose today to stimulate the economy by eliminating the tax on stock dividends and by cutting taxes this year for nearly 100 million taxpayers, at a cost of around $600 billion to the federal Treasury over 10 years. (41 words) Reuters President Bush yesterday said the economic plan he's unveiling today - including family tax cuts and an end to taxing stock dividends - is geared to "the working citizen," and he rejected Democratic charges that it's aimed at the rich. (40 words) New York Post 14. Hints for success Start trying to think of new ways to write leads. Example of a feature lead: Kathy Porter, principal of Westmore Elementary in Orem, knows she must find a way to boost scores. And a mathematics program she's considering, hoping it will do the trick, has proven to be controversial. 15. Hints for success Dont go with the first lead rewrite Avoid superfluous words Write clearly and concisely Use vivid verbs Use colorful words Use Subject-Verb-Object order -- S-V-O 16. Compelling leads To find a lead that will work, first consider the focus or the theme of your story. Here are some questions to help you think about your theme: What one thing does the reader need to know more than any other? What would make the reader say to someone else, "Listen to this!" Is there an anecdote that captures the essence of the story? 17. Compelling leads What concrete specifics reveal the significance of the story? What is the history behind the story? What are the key problems to be solved in writing this story? Source: Compiled by Dr. Sherry Ricchiardi, associate professor, Indiana University School of Journalism (Indianapolis). Adapted with permission. 18. Things to remember Attend desk meetings Update your Route Y forwarding address Plagiarize and youre out Get your hair cut! Cover your beat even during holidays and last week Leave early or come in late = lost points Listen up! No laptops, ipods cell phones in class Think art! Photo orders are part of the story prep process Late assignments no points Read your story outloud Turn off the editor Let it rest if you can 19. Time-saving tips Check the morgue Cast a wide net Dont over report Get three balls in the air 20. Unoriginal sources Conduct your own interviews! Dont use other sources unless deadline is in two minutes and you MUST have the quote. (Of course that doesnt count if youve procrastinated for three days to call a source.) Otherwise it is lazy reporting not worthy of an A. New York Times rule: If you didnt conduct the interview give the source. Its a lot like chicken pox, Masters said in an e-mail. It is a dark day in America, said House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, in a news release. Private prisons are a great idea, Marvin Jensen, CEO of Corrections Corporation of America, told the New York Times. Private prisons are a threat to the safety of corrections officers, Jim Stimson, leader of the a correctional officers union, said in a union news release. (This was posted on a Web site, but no reference to delivery medium is necessary). Our stock is going through the roof, Ralph Merit, CEO of Dot.com, was quoted on thestreet.com Web site. Were at the end of our rope, stranded miner Jack James told the Associated Press. Its time to end the impasse, Williams told the Deseret Morning News. 21. More attribution Avoid "according to" except when quoting documents. "Said" is fine in most cases. Make sure your quotes are adequately introduced. Bad example: Students on campus took notice of the commemoration. Miles Pomeroy, a senior from Mesa, Ariz., majoring in physiology and developmental biology, is one such student. "The anniversary means more because of the lowered flag," said Pomeroy (Pomeroy said). "I like that people volunteer to show forth their respect for what has happened." In addition to honoring the lives of the individuals lost on Sept. 11, the vigil was meant to serve another purpose. (INTRODUCE NEW SPEAKER HERE)"My hope is that through this flag vigil and our continued example of patriotic service we may inspire others with a similar sense of national pride and determination," said Jenson. Subject-verb in attribution -- Jenson said. Avoid there is 22. Ethical/process issues Where possible ask the source to review their quotes. Please allow adequate time for review. While it may be legal, it is not ethical to tape a conversation without first getting permission from the source Identify who you are, that you are from the Daily Universe and you want to interview for a story for publication. Make sure they understand they are on the record to use their name and what is said.