Sunday, 14 April 2013

Journalistic Leads

    What is the best way to start a feature article? Well this is a widely debated subject amongst journalists because there really is no wrong right answer; it is utterly dependant on the content of your article. Peha and Lester define a lead as "your beginning: the first sentence or paragraph that gets the reader engaged." (Peha and Lester, 2006).

      Peha and Lester also question how long a lead should be,  "How long is a lead?...As short as possible and as long as it needs to be." (Peha and Lester, 2006). This basically means it's utterly up to the writer- whatever you think works best may just be the best lead to use.

     But fundamentally, a lead cannot simply provide a summary of what the readers can discover if they opt to read on like those found in a classic news story. Instead, it must be more like a gripping introduction to an essay but with a splash of journalistic flair that encourages your readers to read on.

     If, like me, you find it difficult to trust your instincts when it comes to writing, there are various types of leads to chose from:

The Delayed Lead: This type of lead gives nothing away. It simply aims to attract readers without even informing them what the article is really about. The delayed lead is a difficult one to master because it is tricky to know where to draw the line between divulging all your best facts and quotations and leaving your readers in the dark. It allows readers to construct their own opinions on your subject matter before reading on. An example is, "They sit around our houses for weeks on end gathering dust and get passed from person to person. They turn up to meet our friends, they’re with us on long haul flights, in the bath or even whilst curled up on the sofa."

The Narrative Lead: This type of lead does exactly what it says on the tin; it tells a story and creates a picture in the mind of the reader. If used correctly, a Narrative Lead will set the scene and place your readers in the setting you are describing, almost like a short story.

The Soft News Lead: Soft News leads tend to be concise but do not simply sum up the article. They can be thought-provoking questions or issues that really get your readers thinking. Their main purpose is to spark an emotional interest of some kind, even if it is a negative reaction.

The Bright or Zinger Lead: Similar to the Soft News lead, a Bright or Zinger Lead includes something poignant or a little-known fact to attract and retain the attention of readers. For instance, "Did you know nearly 4 million children in the UK are living in poverty?"

The Anecdotal Lead: This type of lead almost reads like the beginning of a short story. It introduces your topic or interviewee and provides description of an issue, person, object etc.

    These are just a few examples of how to lead a feature article and there are many other varieties besides. How you begin your article is a very personal choice and different journalists have different opinions as to what works best. Personally, I love writing narrative leads because the amount of description you can throw into a couple of sentences is astounding, as is how much you can bond with your readers through it. Feature leads do not have to be as concise as those found in news stories and allow journalists to place their own voice into their writing and have more time to relate to their readers, perhaps even on an emotional level.

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