Monday, September 04, 2006

Better leads: Accept the challenge

Perhaps the most important part of any story is the lead. You have to both inform the reader and entice the reader to read on, to be interested in the story.

We need to work on snappier leads. And one of the ways to do that is to not only focus on results, but also focus on people. Take the sports lead submitted this week about Cerritos' first football game of the season:
The Cerritos football team was defeated in a thier first conference game against Moorpark, which ended with a score of 14-17, Saturday.
First we need to tighten it up a bit and get rid of the noun-pronoun error. Remember, one disease I hope you DO get is what I call PPP, plural pronoun paranoia: Any time you write a plural pronoun (their) be so paranoid about it that you check to see what it refers to. In this case it refers to "football team." But there is only ONE team, so you can't use a plural pronoun. The pronoun has to be "its."

A tighter lead would look like this:
The Cerritos football team opened its conference season Saturday by losing to Moorpark College, 14-17.
Fewer words and I moved the "when" closer to where it needed to be. Note that I changed the passive verb "was defeated" into active verbs of "opened" and "losing."

But even this is a ho-hum lead. We focused on results, but can't we snap up this lead a bit more? Well, the story that was turned in then went to a chronolgocial discussion of the game, complete with editorializing that suggested that the writer was rooting for the home team. (Editors: Hope you edit it out.) Deep in the story was the fact that Cerritos field goal kicker Matt Striuksma missed a 37-yard filed goal late in the game (less than a minute to go based on another story I read) that would have tied the score. While this was late in the game, it WAS the game. it was the pivotal point in deciding who won and who lost. Why not put it in the lead?
Matt Striuksma missed a score-tying 37-yard field goal with less than a minute left to play as the Cerritos College football team lost its season opener Saturday to Moorpark College, 14-17.
Much better. Sports writers, take the pledge: "I will not start any game story off with the words, 'The Cerritos College ...'" Look for key performances, pivotal points, etc. and feature people in leads. But not only sports writers need to do this, we all do. People like reading about other people.


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