Leads provide the first impression of a story. They must grab a reader’s attention. They also must include a nut graph that tells a reader that the rest of the story is about. Many reporters labor over their leads to come up with the right blend of tone, content and interest. Let’s learn more about writing leads with impact in this segment.

Exercises


Read Julie Deardorff’s story about human fatalities during deer hunting season in Wisconsin. Write a brief analysis of the lead. Here are some things to address:

  1. Is the lead effective? Why or why not?
  2. What words or phrases jump out at you as a reader?
  3. Do you know what the story is about by the fifth paragraph? Identify the nut graph in Deardorff’s lead.
  4. At the end of your analysis, rewrite Deardorff’s lead as a hard news lead.
Read Story


Play the video clip of Deardorff discussing her deer story. She talks about only having the name of the hunter who mistakenly shot and killed his neighbor when she drove to Wisconsin to report the story.

As a class, discuss how you would go about finding that individual. What if his name were not in the phone book? Where else could you go to find his address?

Using the Internet, write your own story on hunting safety. It could focus on the number if hunting fatalities in your area this year, or on firearm safety in general.

Write two different leads for your story. Share both with a classmate and discuss the pros and cons of each lead.

Writing Tip: Deardorff had to interview bereaved people for her deer hunting story. Reread the passages that include quotes from the deceased won’s loved ones.

Notice how Deardorff groups those interviews together in her story before moving on the quote investigators and discuss other accidents.


Play the video clip of Jennifer Mrozowski of the Cincinnati Enquirer talking about how she develops leads when writing for the education beat. She emphasizes putting the impact on people up high in the story.

Pick up a section of any newspaper and read the first five paragraphs of any story. By the fifth paragraph, the writer should have given the reader a pretty good idea of the story theme. Then, compare two newspapers’ treatment of the same story. How do the beginnings of news stories differ from newspaper to newspaper? Notice what type of subject matter takes a soft (also called a delayed) lead and what type takes a hard news approach.

Discuss the effort of soft versus hard leads in class or write a brief reaction paper.

Take two stories from your local newspaper and rewrite the leads, Make a hard news lead into a soft lead and turn a soft lead into a hard news lead. Notice the effect such changes have on the entire story.


Play the video clip of the Kalamazoo Gazette’s Craig McCool. For him, the lead bubbles up during the reporting process. He emphasizes that leads are no more important than a story’s transitions or endings.