MCOM 257: Guidelines for writing ledes

At right: Valentines for journos, from the blog 10,000 Words

Today we’ll start practicing for your first graded assignment, writing the basic news lede. First let’s look at a few ledes. From today’s news, four summary/direct ledes:

  • Wildfires sweeping across Texas have destroyed more than 1,000 homes, Governor Rick Perry said Tuesday. –Reuters
  • Hurricane Katia weakened to a Category 3 storm Tuesday as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean after briefly becoming a Category 4 system. –AP
  • Two Libyan convoys have passed through Niger this week, officials there said Tuesday — fueling renewed speculation about the whereabouts of ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. –CNN
  • President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings plunged to a new low ahead of his major economic speech on Thursday, with widespread discontent among Americans over his handling of the economy and jobs, according to a spate of polls released on Tuesday. –Reuters

And two feature ledes:

  • Baltimore’s party is over – and it was a grand one. A Grand Prix one, to be exact. But now it is time to put the carpet and the furniture back where they belong. –The Baltimore Sun
  • Several weeks ago, Maryland kicker Nick Ferrara said he vividly imagined himself kicking the winning field goal against Miami and sending his coach, Randy Edsall, home a winner in his Terps debut.In his detailed daydream, Ferrara anticipated his kick coming from about 41 yards.The yardage in Ferrara’s fantasy was a bit off, but his kick wasn’t. The third-year kicker booted a 32-yarder Monday night with 1:39 left to give the Terps the lead for good. A minute later, Maryland cornerback Cameron Chism — whose earlier defensive holding penalty had proved costly — stepped in front of a sideline pass and returned the interception 54 yards for the clinching touchdown in Maryland’s 32-24 win over the Hurricanes. –The Baltimore Sun

Guidelines for writing basic summary/direct ledes

  1. The lede will be a one-sentence paragraph.
  2. It should be less than 30 words.
  3. It should be in SVO form.
  4. It should answer the 4 Ws. (Often, the how and the why are answered in the second graf or in the second-day story.)
  5. The summary lede often looks like this: Who/what-did-what-where (when), who said (when). As in: Wildfires sweeping across Texas have destroyed more than 1,000 homes, Governor Rick Perry said Tuesday.
  6. Ledes generally should not feature unknown names. Use a blind lede and place the name in the second graf, such as:  A 21-year-old Towson student was injured while crossing York Road Friday. (new paragraph) Jennifer Smith, an early education major, suffered a broken collar bone and was treated at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Are there going to be times you break these rules? You bet. But practice them for now. They will help you see the heart of the story and trim the excess words from your writing.

Lede practice | Reading: Lieb Chapter 4