The Gold-plated Lede of William Randolph Hearst

Stir into pot with lede, bring to a boil, let simmer until interesting

Stir into pot with lede, bring to a boil, let simmer until interesting

By Keeley Sheehan

Writing a lede is like getting to the Shrine of the Silver Monkey on Legends of the Hidden Temple.

You’ve done all the reporting work and collected all your information (or won all the weird mid ’90s obstacle course games). By the time you get started, you usually don’t have a lot of time to put the pieces together in a way that makes sense. It’s stressful — except writing a lede is actually hard. (Seriously, kids? The monkey is three pieces.)

When I first started writing for The Spectrum, the hardest part was organization. The most common comment I got back on any story was a nifty little drawing of an upside down triangle in the corner. “Remember the inverted pyramid.”

Four semesters, one internship and a stringing job later, I’ve got a pretty good handle on story organization — not perfect, but workable. The lede causes me the most problems these days.

I usually don’t even write the lede at the beginning. When I sit down to write a story, it looks something like this: Some dude did something kinda sweet the other day and lots of people care about it. This gets filled in later with something that’s actually printable.

I also have trouble deciding where my lede should sit on the boring/ridiculous scale. Last semester I covered the International Fiesta. I liked my story; I got to use fun adjectives that I didn’t get to use when writing about UB 2020. But the lede was pretty boring. I could have jazzed it up, but how jazzy is too jazzy? There’s interesting and attention-grabbing, and then there’s over-the-top and obnoxious.

I mostly write news stories. It’s hard to make a run-of-the-mill school board meeting article sound interesting. If I try too hard to grab the reader’s attention, and make it sound more interesting than it actually is, aren’t I being dishonest? But on the other hand, how do I keep my ledes from becoming too stale and formulaic? A little pepper never hurt anyone, right?

I don’t have any answers, just questions. I’m not expecting to get all of them answered this semester, either. We can cover a lot in 15 weeks, but I think to some extent, it’s one of those things I’ll just have to keep trying to perfect until I’m old and grey and can’t hold up a pen anymore.

And as cool as it would be to win a trip to a dude ranch, I’m glad I have more than three minutes to figure it out.

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2 responses to “The Gold-plated Lede of William Randolph Hearst

  1. This is your best post so far, Keeley.
    I wish you would raise these points in class. Would make for great discussion.

    To answer one question, I do not think it is dishonest to make a school board meeting sound more interesting than it was. School meetings are interesting. They affect kids! Parents should care what goes on. If you can make it sound interesting — honestly representing what is at stake — then go for it. That is your job.

    If you know that a subject is important, but the meeting itself is dull, then highlight the subject. Reporters do that all the time. We highlight what people would/should care about if they knew what we know. At least some of the time.

    Content: 4
    Links: 3 I’d like to see you pointing to bloggers/news articles/writers you admire, instead of always to articles you wrote.
    Grammar: 3 You have a habit of trying to end your pieces where they began. It’s a great instinct. But you might also try other devices for closure. Try opening out, rather than circling back. Talk to me for clarification.

  2. Pingback: Tredding water « UB Fundamentals of Journalism

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