Category Archives: Ledes

The Importance of Word Choice in Ledes

D.C. police shut down a block of Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle for nearly three hours on Friday after authorities said a bank robber dropped a suspicious package while making his getaway.

Whenever I come across an article about a bank robbery, it always captures my attention. Bank robberies make me think of Hollywood versions of robberies like those in the “Ocean’s Eleven” series. In these portrayals of robberies, the robbers are always handsome and the banks are seemingly impossible to break into, complete with laser beams and complex safes. This is why any lede with the words “bank robber” is interesting. While this lede in the Washington Post is attention grabbing, it could have been more successful. The words “bank robber,” “suspicious package,” and “getaway” are all good quality word choices that make the reader want to finish the article. However, the geography and time explained in the first sentence should have been saved for a later part of the article or the lede, in my opinion. There were a few word choices later in the article that should have been used to make the Lede have more of a punch. For example:

Officer Araz Alali said the holdup occurred minutes before noon at the TD Bank in the 1700 block of Connecticut Avenue NW.

If the word “holdup” had been used, I think the lede would have been more successful. “Holdup” has connotations to guns and cowboys that Americans can not resist. If I were to rewrite this lede, it would say:

A bank robber in the DC area dropped a suspicious package while making his getaway. DC Police were forced to shut down a block of Connecticut Avenue north of Dupont Circle for nearly three hours on Friday to investigate the holdup.

My version of the lede puts the more moving news first and uses the words “forced” and “investigate” which are much more appealing than the basic way that the original lede gave the information.

The article:

A Closer Look at “Choking and Beating Patients” by Nellie Bly

Considering the actual story behind, “Choking and Beating Patients” by Nellie Bly, the lede could be much more of a “hook” to the reader.  Nellie was undercover in an extremely hostile environment yet the lede calmly discusses the sickness of a woman in the asylum.  There are several lines throughout the article that could have made a more efficient lede.  One, for example, is:

She grew more hysterical every moment until they pounced upon her and slapped her face and knocked her head in a lively fashion.  They made the poor creature cry the more, and so they choked her.  Yes, they actually choked her…

This would be a much more dramatic lede than discussing the serious, yet slightly mundane cold of Miss Tillie Mayard.

The quotes throughout the article are extremely useful, as well as credible.  The horrid nurses are given away time and time again through their own words.  For example, when Miss Tillie Mayard faints because of her sickness one nurse states:

Let her fall on the floor and it will teach her a lesson.

What could have made the many statements of the nurses a bit more credible would be adding their names to their quotes, if that was possible.  Other quotes by the unfortunate women in the asylum were also ver useful to the article and more credible because their names were attached.  For example, when poor Urena Little Page cried out:

For God sake, ladies don’t let them beat me.

The quotes were, by far, the strongest additions to this article.

Nellie Bly is successful in this article because of her strong descriptions of the asylum that truly illustrate for the reader the hash treatment and conditions of the patients.  For example, when Bly describes the beating of Urena Little-Page she states:

she caught the woman by her gray hair and dragged her shrieking and pleading from the room.  She was taken to the closet, and her cries grew lower and lower, and they ceased.

Instead of stating simply the facts, Bly allows the reader to feel as if they are there in the room, experiencing these traumatic moments.  While this is a strength of Bly’s writing, it is also important to note that she has become very attached to these patients while she was undercover.  It is fair to say that she becomes extremely biased as she goes from a concerned onlooker to an actual patient herself.

Finding the “Local Angle”

So, this next round of articles must be about a national or international issue, but written in such a way that it appeals to a local audience.  This is called finding the “local angle” for the story.

As we’ve discussed at length in class, the average reader is weary from being bombarded by so much information, so the journalist and news organizations have to find ways of reaching them and making the news seem relevant.

Here are a few examples of recent news articles that take a local angle on a national or international issue.

You will notice that in each of these stories there is a connection between the local and national.  The writer’s job in such stories is to foreground the connection between the national story and the local.  This is done through a lede that specifically mentions place right away.  In the first, a story from the Chicago Tribune, the writer mentions Lake Bluff, IL, a Chicago suburb.  In the second, students celebrate the national Banned Book Week on the campus of the University of Notre Dame (IN), and, in the third, the national news comes to Lynchburg, with a presidential candidate speaking at Liberty University.

The articles then quote the local participants (or those affected), and in some cases, bring in experts that help to put the meaning of the event into perspective.  Be mindful that not all readers will understand the significance of the national/international event or issue, so you will have to provide that, usually in the nut graf.

If you’re stuck on what to write about, consider what kinds of national/international events might affect Sweet Briar Students, or events that might be made more relevant by getting the opinion of Sweet Briar students and professors, especially those who study the issues raised by the news.  Here’s a list I came up with:

  • US economic crisis (unemployment, sluggish job market, etc.)
  • 2012 Presidential election
  • break-down in Israeli/Palestinian peace talks
  • continued turmoil in Libya
  • Economic crisis in Europe
  • 9/11 anniversary
  • upcoming speakers on national and international issues

Good luck, and let me know if you have questions/concerns.






Dead Men Tell No Tales

This article starts with the title “A Hero’s Legend and a Stolen Skull Rustle Up a DNA Drama” and the lede exemplifies the title and furthermore entices the readers curiosity “MELBOURNE, Australia — Even with the best scientific techniques, you can’t always get what you want. But if you try, as the Rolling Stones put it, sometimes you get what you need.”
This article further explains that in 1929, when digging started a mass grave was found, and the bones belonging to Ned Kelly and Frederick Bailey Deeming (who may have been Jack the Ripper) were found. Shiesty school children and onlookers stole some of the bones found, possibly including Ned Kelly’s skull. The remains were sent to a jail for examination and reburial, while the skull took a mysterious journey of its own. The grand tale of Ned Kelly, as told via this article, is that “Born about 1854 to an Irish convict exiled to Australia, Kelly became a folk hero as a very young man. He took up arms against a corrupt British constabulary, robbed banks and wrote an explosive manifesto. He was shot and arrested in a final shootout in which he wore homemade metal armor, and in 1880 he was hanged by the Anglo-Irish establishment he despised. Kelly’s famous death outfit including boots, bag, death mask, and sash… were unable to provide any matching DNA to correlated to the skull found and the historic Ned Kelly apparel. Still on the search, scientists have been looking for this national hero’s skull to complete the remains.



Killed For His Stepfather’s Crime

This is one of the Articles that Wells wrote in Shapiro.

The lede in this article was toward the end: “Yet Butler was apprehended, placed under arrest, and on the night of February 6th, taken out on Hickory Creek, five miles southeast of Paris, and hung for his Stepfather’s crime.” This article kept me on the edge of my seat because as I kept reading the author was building up the climax and I wanted to know what was going to happen to Henry Butler. Wells tells you that this is taken place on Hickory Creek but then references that it so many miles outside of Paris. I am really glad he did that because I honestly had no clue where Hickory Creek was and I was able to have a reference point of where it was taken place.

This situation seems so unreal because I have grown up knowing the law will give everyone a fair trial and everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Because “the mob” wants someone to pay for the crimes of the stepfather they feel like it is right to kill Butler because he has some sort of connection with him. I believe the mob thinks Butler decided to help his stepfather in some way so Butler must now be punished. One part of the article that seemed a little un-nerving was at the very end: “After his body has suspended in the air, the mob fired it with bullets.” the mob decided to shoot the body of Henry Butler when he was already dead. Them shooting the body was out of shear pleasure.

This article for me was really easy to follow and kept me interested the whole time. The author wrote this article in a Narrative and I could picture myself being there as Wells told the account of Henry Butler.

Quote: “He declared from the very beginning that he did not know where his stepfather was, which statement was  well proven to be a fact after the discovery of Smith in Arkansas, whence he had fled through swaps and woods and unfrequented places.” Butler told the people that he was innocent and had no idea where his stepfather was. Instead of holding a trial for him and to find evidence if he was guilty or not guilty they just assumed he was lying and decided to kill him. toward the end of the quote it shows that the people or “the mob” was wrong to kill Henry Butler because he was indeed innocent.


Beatings and all other morally acceptable mediums

Though the topic of Nellie Bly’s article from “Ten Days in a Madhouse” was depressing she gets props for a lede that would blow an elephant out of the water. The one line opener includes suffering and a female, instant win. As Bly continues one image that resonated with me was the german woman being spat on, Bly did a good job of making the reader feel the experience. Another incident was the woman Urena. The way Bly writes about the treatment of the woman is shocking and prompts the reader to continue reading. I was able to find some really interesting pictures of the asylum that Bly was writing about. (Below)

Choking and Beating Patients

The article taken from Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly sent chills through my spine. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the title was “Choking and Beating Patients”, the lede was also powerful. Bly leaps in with both feet and tells us the grueling story of her experience in an asylum for the 10 days she was there conducting research. She begins with the short story of Miss Mayard who was suffering from a severe cold spell and began to convulse on the floor with chills. The most frightening part to these four pages was the fact that the article, while it told the stories of several patients, was actually about the caretakers and workers in the asylum. These women were some of the most uncaring (ironic considering their positions) and cruel people on the planet. I loved the language Bly used through her piece to portray the negativity and harshness and I really felt immense pity for these beaten, spit upon, harmless patients that lacked a proper way to escape or even defend themselves. The lede wasn’t fabulous, as I don’t think papers in the late 19th Century had such a strong focus on ledes as just getting down to the facts. However, it was sufficient enough that it kept me reading. Any title or lead that sparks our curiosity in a negative light will get read for at least a few more sentences. The goal then is to keep our attention until the article is concluded. Negative ledes I find are often stronger and do a better job of convincing me to read them than positive, upbeat ledes. Maybe I have some dark side of which I am not fully aware, but the more scary, angsty, and negative a lede is, the more likely I am to be sucked into the article and read it from start to finish. Bly put it pretty bluntly, and I liked that a lot as well. Additionally, her overall descriptions of the people of which she came into contact were detailed and intriguing. She told us enough that we felt like we were witnessing the little German woman get spit on, however it wasn’t so much that we got bored, were overwhelmed, or weren’t able to let our own imaginations take over for some time.

Following the Leder

“Under a new state law in New Jersey, lunch-line bullies in the East Hanover Schools can be reported to the police by their classmates this fall through anonymous tips to the Crimestoppers hot line.”

Student bullying has been a prominent issue for concern in America’s classrooms. Protecting our children and ensuring that they are in a safe learning environment is at the forefront of educators and families to-do list. That being said, parents and teachers alike have welcomed a new law, known as the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” into their classrooms in hopes of managing the dangers and damaging effects of bullying. This law requires schools to hire a team of bullying specialists to research the complaints of students and provide the various situations with adequate attention in order to solve the issues and prevent any further mistreatment that could potentially lead to desperate consequences.
The lede used in this article effectively sets up the the rest of the story by using the most interesting and relative information in the forefront. It provides a precise description of the story’s main issue, enticing the reader with the controversial idea of children or “lunch-line bullies” turning one another into the police for bullying. By covering both ends of the spectrum, the lede adds a bit of dramatic flair to the situation, ultimately provoking thought amongst readers.

Taking the Bait

“Cell phones and pagers, airplane engines, a door from a police squad car, a mother’s wallet and credit cards. Those items survived when terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York City during the September 11 attacks” (read the full article here:

There’s a short list of items presented without context. Then, the context: a tragedy, constantly remembered and long past.

The lede could be for any number of articles concerning the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. This particular article concerns a new exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., of items once held in storage by the FBI as evidence for terror trials.

It’s an interesting article, but it’s also a human-interest piece more than anything else; there are descriptions of a few of the items on display, and that all-important context for each, but nothing is really news to someone who has been alive these last ten years. The quiet but affecting lede suggests the tone of the rest of the article, with its appeals to emotion and memory in the form of haunting images and recollections.

I would call it a successful lede: it gives a taste of the rest of the article, but without revealing the exact topic. If the title of the article had not been known to me, I would have clicked the lede because it sounded intriguing and I would have wanted to know what the rest of the article said.

So in this case, the fact that the lede itself is somewhat generic works for the better. By teasing the reader without revealing the specific subject of the article, it preys on natural human curiosity to draw people in.

Kat Allen 8/31 – Do Numbers Make the Best Lede’s?

San Francisco school officials have some explaining – and complying – to do. Last year, the district failed to follow the strict rules attached to a $56 million, three-year federal grant to improve student performance at 10 of its lowest-performing schools. The schools could lose the second installment – about $18 million – if they don’t make adjustments.   Read more:

As a reader of the News online I wanted to find an article that not only caught my eye, but also made me wonder “what the heck happened?”  So I searched the newspapers in California hoping to find something that would intrigue me.  In Robert M. Knight’s book Journalistic Writing he teaches us to focus on lede’s (the first lines) and how they should draw you in as a reader and therefore keep you reading.  So I focused in on the first lines of stories hoping something would make me want to read on instead of move on.

This particular article I found at the (seen above) which caught my attention immediately due to the lede written.  I was a student in California and I had immediately been intrigued by the statement that the school officials had some explaining to do.  I liked that this article did not mention in the first line why they had some explaining to do.  If they had mentioned it then I would have the entire story and not be interested in reading the rest.  I guess that is the whole point of a lede; to make a reader read on.  This article was quite long, but I read through due to the information and outrageous numbers that were precisely placed in the story to keep me reading to find out more.  A chart was even included to show which schools were doing which of the 4 Reforms given to them so that they can stay funded.  This visual was great because it simplified the information into chart form instead of putting it into words; and perhaps if it had been done that way the readers would have become bored and stopped reading.

Sometimes the numbers can be a little daunting or boring to most, but when they are about children’s schools and people losing their jobs because of overall bad decisions people can’t help but be interested in this story.  A successful lede leads to a successful story in this case.