Leads: Why should I care?

One of my biggest journalistic pet peeves is the lack of attention lead writing. Granted, it is one of the hardest aspects of writing, but still. To look at a story and see a lead that tells you nothing, does not draw you into the story and is essentially a pointless waste of space is, simply put, obnoxious and makes me want to rip my hair out.

Usually you can tell the difference between a lead that’s just thrown on the page to meet deadline and a lead that actually had some thought put into it. What I don’t get is why some people don’t take the time to craft a beautifully written lead.

For the longest time, the lead would be the first thing I write. I would sit and stare at a blank Word document until a lead (if not my best, at least something to get the ideas flowing) popped into my head.

Though coming up with individual leads is a pain, all you really need is one simple question to give you the idea for the lead: WHY SHOULD I CARE?

What about the story you’re writing is so important that everybody who picks up a copy of the paper should read it? That information is the lead. Now, crafting that information with the perfect words is whole ‘nother story. But the basic thought is the same.

Find something — a fact, a statistic, a quote, something that tugs at the heart — to draw people into the story. If you can’t do that right away, then take the advice of my former editor in chief: Write everything BUT the lead. Then go back and figure out what you want to say.

Crafting a lead is different for everyone. Not everyone will take the same path, but everyone will end up at the same place. It just takes time, patience, bouncing ideas off other people (not even fellow journalists, necessarily) and stepping back from the story to see what is truly the most important piece of information readers should care about.

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3 thoughts on “Leads: Why should I care?

  1. Hey Kari, I just wanted to drop by and say that I really enjoy your blog. I feel like I can relate to you a lot on here. I am the kind of person who HAS to write the lede first. I will sit there and stare at a blank document forever. I feel like I can’t get going until I write that first, captivating sentence. It frustrates my editor. It’s funny because I’ll sometimes think of the lede in the most random places. For example, inspiration once struck at 3 a.m. and I knew if I didn’t go with it then I’d lose it by the time I walked into work in the morning so I laid in bed and wrote the story on my phone and sent it to myself via e-mail. It was quite possibly my nerdiest moment yet.

  2. Hey Kari, I just wanted to drop by and say that I really enjoy your blog. I feel like I can relate to you a lot on here. I am the kind of person who HAS to write the lede first. I will sit there and stare at a blank document forever. I feel like I can’t get going until I write that first, captivating sentence. It frustrates my editor. It’s funny because I’ll sometimes think of the lede in the most random places. For example, inspiration once struck at 3 a.m. and I knew if I didn’t go with it then I’d lose it by the time I walked into work in the morning so I laid in bed and wrote the story on my phone and sent it to myself via e-mail. It was quite possibly my nerdiest moment yet.

  3. Haha, it happens. I used to be that way, but I’ve found that as long as I get something, regardless of how good it is, I can usually come up with something better once I get going on putting all the pieces of the story together. But if I have an idea and I don’t write it down, I kick myself later because I know I won’t be able to come up with something better. Thanks for reading!

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