Where do ledes lead?

In every newsroom one person sits blithely at his/her computer, churning out fabulous ledes in 10 seconds flat. This person is dressed well. This person has clean fingernails. This person probably has his/her life together, a beautifully decorated apartment, a perfect relationship and a regular exercise regime. Everyone hates this person.

Most journalists struggle with writing good ledes – I know I do. For Vox we are required to submit two versions of a lede, to give the editor as many choices as possible. The number of times I’ve left the second space blank is embarrassing.

A good lede is compelling and makes the reader want to, well, read. Good ledes are relatively rare; when we find them, we want to give the author an encouraging pat on the back.

Really good ledes are even rarer and induce jealous thoughts: Stop being so perfect or I’m going to murder you in your sleep, for example.

In scanning the news of late, I was struck by the lede for this Atlantic story about possums in New Zealand… I believe it actually induced a chuckle.

Then, out of curiosity (and because my professor assigned it), I went on the hunt for not-so-great ledes. I can usually rely on my trusty low-budged local paper, The Villager, for these. I checked the website and sure enough: a cringe-worthy lede. Triumph!

What makes it cringe-worthy? For one, it could stand to lose a few pounds. It’s chunky and, believe it or not, all one sentence. A 42 word sentence! I remember being taught somewhere along the way that ledes are 25 words, max. The shame.

In addition, it’s boring. The writer used a hard-news lede for a story with plenty of describe-able action. Why not a descriptive lede, or an interesting fact?

Finally, the use of the word “special” twice in one 42-word sentence does this lede no favors. If you’re going to write a lede that actually induces headaches, at least do it with better adjectives.

Overall, kudos to Rachel E. Gross for the Atlantic lede. I actually read about possums on a Sunday morning, an unusual event at the best of times. Jonathan Garris‘ lede, however, could use some love.

Where do ledes lead?