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The Lead

[11] Before reading this chapter, the student should examine
the style book in the Appendix, particularly that part
dealing with the preparation of copy for the city desk.

=100. Instructions from the City Editor
Before beginning the story,
the reporter should stop at the city editor's desk, give him in as few
words as possible an account of what he has learned, and ask for
instructions about handling the story, about any feature or features to
play up. The city editor may not offer any advice at all, may simply say
to write the story for what it is worth. In such a case, the reporter is
at liberty to go ahead as he has planned; and he should have his copy on
the city editor's desk within a very few minutes. The city editor,
however, may tell him to feature a certain incident and to write it up
humorously. If the reporter has observed keenly, he himself will already
have chosen the same incident and may still proceed with the writing as
he planned on the way back to the office. A careful study of
instructions given reporters will quickly convince one, however, that in
nine cases out of ten the city editor takes his cue from the reporter
himself, that in the reporter's very mood and method of recounting what
he has learned, he suggests to the city editor the features and the tone
of the story, and is merely given back his own opinion verified. Not
always is this the case, however. One reporter on a Southern daily--and
a star man, too--used to say that he could never predict what his city
editor would want featured. So he used always to come into the office
armed with two leads, and sometimes with three.

=101. Two Kinds of Leads
The story, technically, is made up of two
parts--the lead and the body. The lead is easily the more important. If
a reporter can handle successfully this part of the story, he will have
little trouble in writing the whole. The lead is the first sentence or
the first group of sentences in the story and is of two kinds, the
summarizing lead and what may be called the informal lead. The
summarizing lead gives in interesting, concise language the gist of the
story. The informal lead merely introduces the reader to the story
without intimating anything of the outcome, but with a suggestion that
something interesting is coming. Of the two types the summarizing lead
is by far the more common and may be considered first.

=102. Summarizing Lead
The summarizing lead may be a single sentence
or a single paragraph, or two or three paragraphs, according to the
number and complexity of the details in the story. A brief story usually
has a short lead. A long, involved story made up of several parts, each
under a separate head, often has a lead consisting of several
paragraphs. Sometimes this lead, because of its importance as a summary
of all the details in the story, is even boxed and printed in black-face
type at the beginning of the story. Then follow the different parts,
each division with its own individual lead.

=103. Contents of the Lead
What to put into the lead,--or to feature,
as reporters express it in newspaper parlance,--one may best determine
by asking oneself what in the story is likely to be of greatest interest
to one's readers in general. Whatever that feature is, it should be
played up in the lead. The first and great commandment in news writing
is that the story begin with the most important fact and give all the
essential details first. These details are generally summarized in the
questions who, what, when, where, why, and how. If the
writer sees that his lead answers these questions, he may be positive
that, so far as context is concerned, his lead will be good.

=104. Construction of the Lead
In constructing the lead, the most
important fact or facts should be put at the very first. For this
reason, newspaper men avoid beginning a story with to-day,
to-morrow, or yesterday, because the time at which an incident has
occurred is rarely the most important fact. For the same reason, careful
writers avoid starting with the, an, or a, though it often is
necessary to begin with these articles because the noun they modify is
itself important. The name of the place, too, rarely ever is of enough
importance to be put first. An examination of a large number of leads in
the best newspapers shows that the features most often played up are the
result and the cause or motive. Thus:


As a result of too much thanksgiving on Thanksgiving
Day, Prof. Harry Z. Buith, 42, 488 Sixteenth Street,
a prominent Seventh Day Adventist, is dead.


Just plain ordinary geese and a few ganders held up
a train on the Milwaukee road to-day and forced
their owner, Nepomcyk Kucharski, 1287 Fourth Avenue,
into district court.

=Cause and Result=

Because Harry A. Harries, 24, 2518 North Avenue,
wanted two dollars for a license to marry Anna
Francis, 17, 4042 Peachtree Avenue, his aged mother
is dying this morning in St. Elizabeth Hospital.

Sometimes, particularly in follow or rewrite stories, probable results
become the feature.

=Probable Results=

That immediate intervention in Mexico by the United
States will be the result of the Villa raid last
night on Columbus, N.M., is the general belief in
official Washington this morning.

Another feature often played up in leads is the means or method by which
a result was attained.


A sensational half-mashie shot to the lip of the cup
on the eighteenth green won to-day for Mrs. Roland
H. Barlow, of the Merion Cricket Club, Philadelphia,
over Miss Lillian B. Hyde, of the South Shore Field
Club, Long Island, in the second round of the
women's national golf championship tournament at the
Onwentsia Club.


Working at night with a tin spoon and a wire nail,
Capt. Wilhelm Schuettler dug 100 feet to liberty and
escaped from the Hallamshire camp sometime early
this morning.

Often it is necessary to feature the name:


Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, archbishop of
Bologna, Italy, was to-day elected supreme pontiff
of the Catholic hierarchy, in succession to the late
Pope Pius X, who died Aug. 20. He will reign under
the name of Benedict XV.


President Wilson and Mrs. Norman Galt have selected
Saturday, Dec. 18, as the date of their marriage.
The ceremony will be performed in Mrs. Galt's
residence, and the guests will be confined to the
immediate members of the President's and Mrs. Galt's

Even the place and the time have to be featured occasionally.


New Orleans will be the place of the annual meeting
of the Southern Congress of Education and Industry,
it was learned from a member of the Executive
committee to-day.


Chicago was selected by the Republican National
committee to-night as the meeting place of the 1916
Republican national convention, to be held June 7,
one week before the Democratic convention in St.


Monday, Sept. 20, is the date finally set for the
opening of the State Fair, it was announced by the
Program Committee to-day.

=105. Form of the Lead
The grammatical form in which the lead shall
be written depends much on the purpose of the writer. Some of the
commonest types of beginnings are with: (1) a simple statement; (2) a
series of simple statements; (3) a conditional clause; (4) a substantive
clause; (5) an infinitive phrase; (6) a participial phrase; (7) a
prepositional phrase; (8) the absolute construction.

=106. Leads with Short Sentences
The value of the first two kinds is
their forcefulness. Often reporters break what might be a long,
one-sentence, summarizing lead into a very short sentence followed by a
long one, or into a number of brief sentences, each of which gives one
important detail. Such a type of lead gains its force from the fact that
it lends emphasis to the individual details given in the short
sentences. Note the effect of the following leads:


The epidemic of fever that has been sweeping through
the western suburb since the high school banquet
more than a month ago was traced yesterday to a
woman carrier who handled the food in the school

George Edward Waddell, our famous "Rube," fanned out
to-day. It was not the first time Rube had fanned,
but it will be his last. Tuberculosis claimed him
after a two-year fight.

If Mrs. Mary McCormick sneezes or coughs, she will
die. Her back was broken yesterday by a fall from a
third-story window. Thomas Wilson is being held
under a $5,000 bond pending her death or recovery,
charged by the police with pushing her from the

=107. Lead Beginning with a Conditional Clause=--The lead beginning with
a conditional clause is valuable for humorous effects or for summarizing
facts leading up to a story. As a rule, however, one must avoid using
more than two such clauses, as they are liable to make the sentence
heavy or obscure.

If Antony Fisher, 36, 1946 Garden Street, had not
written Dorothy Clemens she was a "little love," he
would be worth $1,000,000 now. But he wrote Dorothy
she was a little love.

If Joe Kasamowitz, 4236 Queen's Avenue, speaks to
his wife either at her home or at the news-stand she
conducts at the St. Paul Hotel; if he loiters near
the entrance to the hotel; or if he even attempts to
call his wife over the telephone before Saturday, he
will be in contempt of court, according to an
injunction issued to-day by Judge Fish.

=108. Lead Beginning with a Substantive Clause
The substantive clause
has two main values in the lead,--to enable the writer to begin with a
direct or an indirect question, and to permit him to shift to the very
beginning of the lead important ideas that would normally come at the
end of the sentence.

That Jim Jeffries was the greatest fighter in the
history of pugilism and Jim Corbett the best boxer,
was the statement last night by Bob Fitzsimmons
before a crowd of 5,000 at the Orpheum theater.

That he had refused to kiss her on her return from a
long visit and had said he was tired of being
married, was the testimony of Mrs. Flora Eastman
to-day in her divorce suit against Edwin O. Eastman,
of St. Louis.

=109. Lead Beginning with a Phrase
Infinitive, participial, and
prepositional phrases are valuable mainly for bringing out emphatic
details. But the writer must be careful, particularly in participial
constructions, to see that the phrases have definite words to modify.

To see if the bullet was coming was the reason
Charlie Roberts, aged 7, 2626 Ninth Street, looked
down his father's pistol barrel at 8:00 A.M. to-day.

Playing with a rifle longer than his body,
three-year-old Ernest Rodriguez, of Los Angeles,
accidentally shot himself in the abdomen this
morning and is dying in the county hospital.

Almost blinded with carbolic acid, Fritz Storungot,
of South Haven, groped his way to Patrolman Emil
Schulz at Third Street and Brand Avenue last night
and begged to be sent to the Emergency Hospital.

With her hands and feet tied, Ida Elionsky, 16, swam
in the roughest kind of water through Hell Gate
yesterday, landing safely at Blackwell's Island.

=110. Lead Beginning with Absolute Construction
The absolute
construction usually features causes and motives forcibly, but it should
be avoided by beginners, as it is un-English and tends to make sentences
unwieldy. The following illustrates the construction well:

Her money gone and her baby starving, Mrs. Kate
Allen, 8 Marvin Alley, begged fifteen cents of a
stranger yesterday to poison herself and child.

=111. Accuracy and Interest in the Lead
The two requirements made of
the lead are that it shall possess accuracy and interest. It must have
accuracy for the sake of truth. It must possess interest to lure the
reader to a perusal of the story. Toward an attainment of both these
requirements the reporter will have made the first step if he has
organized his material rightly, putting at the beginning those facts
that will be of most interest to his readers.

=112. Clearness
But the reporter will still fail of his purpose if he
neglects to make his lead clear. He must guard against any construction
or the inclusion of any detail that is liable to blur the absolute
clarity of his initial sentences. In particular, he must be wary of
overloaded leads, those crowded with details. It is better to cut such
leads into two or more short, crisp sentences than to permit them to be
published with the possibility of not being understood. If a reader
cannot grasp readily the lead, the chances are nine out of ten that he
will not read the story. Note the following overloaded lead and its
improvement by being cut into three sentences:

Barely able to see out of her swollen and discolored
eyes, and her face and body covered with cuts and
bruises, received, it is alleged, when her father
attacked her because of her failure to secure work,
Mary Ellis, 15 years old, living at 1864 Brown
Street, when placed on the witness stand Monday,
told a story which resulted in Peter Ellis, her
father, being arrested on a charge of assault with
intent to do great bodily harm.

Charged with beating unmercifully his daughter,
Mary, 15, because she could not obtain work, Peter
Ellis, 1864 Brown Street, was arraigned in police
court Monday. The girl herself appeared against
Ellis. Her body, when she appeared on the witness
stand, was covered with cuts and bruises, her face
black from the alleged blows, and her eyes so much
swollen that she could hardly see.

The following lead, too, is overloaded and all but impossible
to understand:

Two letters written by H. M. Boynton, an advertising
agent for the Allen-Procter Co., to "Dear Louise,"
in which he confessed undying love and which are
replete with such terms of endearment as "little
love," "dear beloved," "sweetheart," "honey," and
just plain "love," and which were alleged by him to
have been forged by his wife, Mrs. Hannah Benson
Boynton, obtained a divorce for her yesterday in
district court on the grounds of alienated

Few readers would wade through this maze of shifted constructions and
heavy, awkward phrasing for the sake of the divorce story following. In
the following form, however, it readily becomes clear:

Two love letters to "Dear Louise" cost H. M.
Boynton, advertising agent for the Allen-Procter
Co., a wife yesterday in district court. The letters
were produced by Mrs. Hannah Benson Boynton to
support her charge of alienated affections, and were
replete with such terms of endearment as "undying
love," "honey," "sweetheart," "dear beloved,"
"little love," and just plain "love." Boynton
claimed that the letters were forged.

=113. Boxed Summaries and Features
When a story is unusually long and
complicated and the number of details numerous, or when important points
or facts need particular emphasis, it is customary to make a digest of
the principal items and box them in display type before the regular
lead. Boxed summaries at the beginning of a story are really determined
by the city editor and the copy readers, but a grouping of the
outstanding facts for boxing is often a welcome suggestion and a
valuable help to the sub-editors. If the reporter is in doubt about the
need of a boxed summary, he may make it on a separate sheet and place it
on the city editor's desk along with the regular story. Types of stories
that most frequently have boxed summaries are accidents, with lists of
the dead and the injured in bold-face type; important athletic and
sporting events, with summaries of the records, the crowds in
attendance, the gate receipts, etc.; speeches, trials, and executions,
with epigrams and the most important utterances of the judges, lawyers,
witnesses, or defendants; international diplomatic letters, with the
main points of discussion or most threatening statements; lengthy
governmental reports, etc. An illustration of the boxed summary is the
following, featuring the last statement of Charles Becker, the New York
police lieutenant, electrocuted in 1915 for the death of Herman



"Gentlemen: I stand before you in my full senses,
knowing that no power on earth can save me from the
grave that is to receive me. In the face of that,
in the face of those who condemn me, and in the
presence of my God and your God, I proclaim my
absolute innocence of the foul crime for which I
must die.

"You are now about to witness my destruction by the
state which is organized to protect the lives of
the innocent. May almighty God pardon everyone who
has contributed in any degree to my untimely death.
And now on the brink of my grave, I declare to the
world that I am proud to have been the husband of
the purest, noblest woman that ever lived,--Helen

"This acknowledgment is the only legacy I can leave
her. I bid you all good-bye. Father, I am ready to
go. Amen."

Ossining, N. Y., July 30.--At peace with his Maker,
a prayer on his lips, but with never a faltering of
his iron will, Charles Becker expiated the murder of
Herman Rosenthal at 5:55 this morning. Pinned on his
shirt above his heart, he carried with him the
picture of his devoted wife. In his hand he clutched
the crucifix.

The death current cut off in his throat the whisper,
"Jesus have mercy." It was not the plea of a man
shaken and fearful of death, but rather the prayer
of one with the conviction that he was innocent.

Just before he entered the death chamber he declared
to Father Curry, "I am not guilty by deeds,
conspiracy or any other way of the death of
Rosenthal. I am sacrificed for my friends."
Previously at 4 A.M. he issued "My Dying Statement."
It was a passionate reiteration of innocence, and is
left as his only legacy to his wife: "I declare to
the world that I am proud to have been the husband
of the purest, noblest woman that ever lived,--Helen

Absolute quiet reigned in the death house at 5.50
A.M. Suddenly the little green door swung open.
Becker appeared. He had no air of bravado. Behind
him in the procession came Fathers Cashin and Curry.
Becker walked unassisted to the death chamber. As he
entered he glanced about, seemingly surprised. His
face had the expression of a person coming from
darkness into sudden light, but there was no hint of
hesitancy to meet death in the stride with which he
approached the chair which had already claimed the
lives of four others in payment for the Rosenthal

The doomed man held a black crucifix in his left
hand. It was about ten inches long, and as he calmly
took his place in the chair, he raised it to his
lips. Following the chant of the priests, he
entoned, "Oh, Lord, assist me in my last agony. I
give you my heart and my soul."

When all was ready, the executioner stepped back and
in full view of the witnesses calmly shut the
switch. As the great current of electricity shot
into the frame of the former master of gunmen, the
big body straightened out, tugging at the creaking
straps. For a few moments it stretched out. A slight
sizzling was heard and a slight curl of smoke went
up from the right side of Becker's head, rising from
under the cap. When the shock was at its height, his
grip tightened to the crucifix, but as the
electrocutioner snapped the switch off the cross
slipped from the relaxed fingers. A guard caught it.
The whole body dropped to a position of utter

Becker's shirt was then opened. As the black cloth
was turned back to make way for the stethoscope, the
picture of Mrs. Becker was revealed. It was pinned
inside. The doctors pushed it aside impatiently,
evidently not knowing what it was. They held
stethoscopes to the heart. Another shock was
demanded of the cool young executioner. He stepped
back and swung the switch open and shut again. The
crumpled body clutched the straps again. Once more
the doctors felt his heart. They seemed to argue
whether there was still evidence of life. Once again
the executioner was appealed to and once again he
snapped on and off the switch. The lips then parted
in a smile. The stethoscope was applied and it was
declared that Becker was dead....[12]

[12] George R. Holmes, of the United Press
Associations, in The Appleton Post,
July 30, 1915.

=114. Informal Lead
The opposite of the summarizing lead is the
informal, or suspense, lead. This type begins with a question, a bit of
verse, a startling quotation, or one or two manifestly unimportant
details that tell little and yet whet the appetite of the reader, luring
him to the real point of interest later in the story. Such leads,
sometimes known as "human interest" leads, are admittedly more difficult
than those of the summarizing type, their difficulty being but one
effect of the cause which makes them necessary. An examination of a
large number of these leads shows that their purpose is to make
attractive news that for some cause is lacking in interest. Most
frequently the news is old; often it is merely commonplace; or possibly
it may have come from such a distance that it lacks local interest. In
such cases the aid of the informal lead is invoked for the purpose of
stimulating the reader's interest and inducing him to read the whole
story. And this explains the difficulty of the informal lead. Its
originality must compensate for the poverty of the news it presents. It
must be more attractive, more striking, more piquant than the ordinary
lead. And the only ways of obtaining this attractiveness, this piquancy,
are by novelty of approach and of statement.[13]

[13] For an additional discussion of the informal lead,
see Chapter XIX.

=115. Question Lead
A few illustrations of informal leads will make
clearer their exact nature. First may be cited the question lead, two
examples of which are given below, with enough of the story appended in
each case to show the method of enticing the reader into the story.

How long can the war last?

It's a fool question, because there is no certain
answer. But when there is an unanswerable question,
it is the custom to look up precedents. Here are a
few precedents....

If you planned to wed in September and married in
July just to suit your own convenience, would you be
provoked if your dear neighbors immediately seated
themselves and wove a beautiful romance out of it?

Grace Elliott Bomarie, daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
Charles Elliott Bomarie, of 930 Lawrence Avenue, and
sister of Bessie Bomarie, former famous champion
golf player, was not angry to-day. Instead she
laughed the merriest kind of a laugh over the
telephone and said:

"Call me up in half an hour and I will tell you all
about it."

But she didn't. On the recall (that's the proper
word in this day of equal suffrage), she was not at
home. Mrs. Bomarie was, and said:

"Please just say that Mr. and Mrs. Charles Elliott
Bomarie announce the marriage of their daughter,
Grace Elliott, to Mr. Albert Wingate."

=116. Verse Lead
The lead beginning with a bit of verse is more
difficult than the question lead because of the uncertainty with which
most persons write metrical lines. The following may serve as a fairly
successful attempt:


Perhaps you've seen a jolly tar
A-pushing at the capstan bar
Or swabbing off the deck,
And figured that a life of ease
Attends the jackie on the seas
Who draws a U. S. check.
His lot, it seems, is not quite so;
Just hear this plaintive plea of woe
That comes from off the BUFFALO.
The sailors rise to raise a wail
Because they say they get no mail.

Will some Milwaukee misses in their spare moments do
Uncle Sam a favor by writing letters to cheer up
some of his downhearted nephews in the navy?

The boys are just pining away from lonesomeness,
owing to the fact that no one writes to them. At
least this is the sorrowful plea of G. H. Jones, a
sailor aboard the U. S. S. BUFFALO, who writes THE
SENTINEL from San Francisco as follows:

Girls--Why not use some of your idle moments in
writing to us? I have been in the navy five years
and have never received any mail. G. H. Jones,
U. S. S. Buffalo, San Francisco, Cal.[14]

[14] Milwaukee Sentinel, August 7, 1914.

=117. Extraordinary Statement in Lead
An extraordinary statement made
by a person in a speech, an interview, or a trial scene is often used in
the informal lead. If, however, the quoted statement is so long or of
such a nature that it summarizes the whole story, it places the lead, of
course, not in the informal class, but in the normal summarizing group.
The following illustrates well the extraordinary statement:


Mr. David Elliott,

You can go to the d----l, and the quicker the

Your Wife.

This is the letter in which David Elliot thinks his
wife "went too far." He produced it before Judge
David Matchett Saturday in a suit for divorce.

=118. Suspense Lead
The most difficult to handle of all the informal
leads is the suspense lead, where the writer purposely begins with
unimportant but enticing details and lures the reader on from paragraph
to paragraph, always holding out a half-promise of something worth while
if one will continue a bit further. In this way the reader is tempted to
the middle or end of the story before he is told the real point of the
article. A difficult type of lead, this, but forceful when well handled.

Pierre L. Corbin, 60 years old, of Eatontown, who
runs a dairy and drives his own milk wagon, matched
the speed of his horse against that of a New Jersey
Central train yesterday morning at 7 o'clock in a
race to the crossing at Eatontown. It was a tie.
Both got there at the same time.[15]

[15] New York Times, August 27, 1915.

There are two ways of patching a pair of
trousers,--neatly and bluey; and probably no tailor
in Manhattan is as certain of it to-day as Sigmund
Steinbern. So he stated to the police yesterday when
a customer sat him down on his lighted gas stove,
and so he insisted last night when friends called to
see him at the Washington Heights Hospital.
Furthermore, to say nothing of moreover, he is a
tailor of standing, or will be for the next couple
of weeks, and he knows his place. It is not, he
feels, upon a gas stove.

To friends who called at the hospital to ask Mr.
Steinbern exactly what had happened to him, he said,
by way of changing the subject, that he has a sign
in his store upon which the following appears:


There, he contends, lies the seed of the trouble.
Regarding the seat of the trouble, more anon....[16]

[16] New York Herald, December 21, 1915.

=119. Tone
No matter which of the two types of lead one uses, whether
the summarizing or the informal, one point further needs attention in
the writing,--the value of constructing such a lead as will suggest the
tone of the story. Half the leads that one reads in the daily papers do
not possess this touchstone of superiority, but all the leads to the big
stories have it. If the article is to be pathetic, tragic, humorous,
mildly satirical, the lead should suggest it; and the reporter will find
that in proportion as he is able to imbue his lead with the story-tone
he aims at in his writing, so will be the success of his story. This
topic is discussed further in the next chapter, but the reader may
consider at this point the two following leads, in which one plainly
promises a story of pathos and tragedy; the other, half-serious humor:

DIED--Claus, Santa, in the American Hospital,
Christmas morning, aged 11.

Santa Claus, who wasn't such an old fellow after
all, overslept on the great morning. He had gone to
bed plain Vern Olson--not in a toy shop at the North
Pole, but in a little room behind his widowed
mother's delicatessen shop at 111 South Robey

The cause of the high cost of living has been
discovered. It's pie,--plain pie. Teeny Terss, who
runs a Greek restaurant on Hodel Street, made the
announcement to-day.

=120. Conclusion
Of the two types of lead, the beginner is advised to
attempt at first only the summary lead, relying on the excellence of the
news to carry the story. This kind of lead is definite. A reporter
always can know when his lead answers the questions who, what,
when, where, why, and how. And if he has presented his facts
clearly in the lead, he may feel a certain degree of assurance that he
has been successful. In writing the informal lead, on the contrary, one
can never be positive of anything or of any effect. (And it is a
particular effect for which the reporter always must strive in the
informal lead.) Climax and suspense are such elusive spirits that if a
writer but give evidence he is seeking them, he immediately loses them.
The only safe plan for the novice, therefore, is to confine himself at
first exclusively to the summarizing lead. Then as his hand becomes
sure, he may take ventures with the elusive, informal, or suspense,

Next: The Body Of The Story

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