One of the hardest things to do as a journalist is get your reader to stick around to the end. I’ve heard mentors and professors harp about the inverted pyramid my entire career – mainly because it’s so effective in getting the most important information to your readers before they bail. We live in the age of 140 characters, after all, so it takes quite the compelling lead to: a) bring in your readers b) get them to stick around for a while.
When it comes to these powerful types of leads, sometimes uniqueness can go a long way. One such example is a story about a local musician that was published in the Missourian last week. Eric “Rocket” Kirchner saw The Rolling Stones play when he was a boy and thereon dedicated his life to his music. The lead, which paints a picture of Kirchner playing music at a winery, puts the reader in that very room, even offering some of the lyrics Kirchner was singing at the time. As a result, I instantly connected with the musician and wanted to learn more about him. So I stuck with the story till the end.
It’s fair to say, however, that when leads are effective, they are really effective. For instance, a story about 911 and emergency management services published in the Columbia Tribune does little to bring the reader into the issue.
The lead reads, “Those promoting an April sales tax proposal to fund 911 and emergency management services recognize they might be battling voter fatigue when it comes to tax hike requests.”
Though this is clearly a straight news story, I get boggled down mid-sentence and promptly give up. A challenge of any news reporter is to take a complicated issue and write a lead that is interesting or clear enough to entice the reader to learn. Where this lead goes wrong is in its unnecessary wordiness. It is not a terrible lead, by any means, as it gets the main issue across, but I believe I would have been more inclined to read the story had the lead been rewritten more concisely.