When I reached the midpoint of my internship last week, my editor sat me down to discuss my work thus far. Although she said my articles had been great, she pointed out one rather embarrassing problem: the leads.
As a journalism student, leads are the first pieces of the “inverted triangle” we learn how to write. They are often believed to be the most important part of an article because they let the reader know if it’s worth reading or not. After countless classes and a number of internships at large publications, I thought I was beyond this point. But, as I was rudely awakened to last week, I had become too concerned with the “style” of the article, which affected my leads.
Let me explain: Before I got the internship I have right now, I was writing at a more “alternative” weekly publication. Although it was completely respectable, it had a much different writing style than the publication I work at now — a more hard-news-oriented paper. I wanted to show my new coworkers that I was more than a music writer (my position at my last internship), so I cut the use of rich adjectives out, used less color and got straight to the facts. This was a mistake.
Yes, all my pieces had the “summary lead” — a point and factual lead meant to give the reader a quick summary of the story in as few words as possible — aspect down, but there was no imagery. My pieces were straight up boring, which is bad for business as it leaves the readers disinterested. For the second time in as many internships, I was told something that I often forget while trying to prove my competence as a journalist: Have fun with it.
Despite the seriousness or complexity of the piece, find the juicy details of the subject that make people laugh, squirm or cry (sometimes all three) and stick them in the lead. Hard-news publications are here to report the facts, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have some fun, too.