Saturday, April 13, 2019

A to Z Challenge - L for Lead

Theme - Journalism jargons
This is the opening paragraph of a news report, which summarises the most important points of the story.

It draws readers to the story and helps them quickly get an idea of what the report is all about. If the subject is of interest they can go ahead and read more of the article.


There are different ways a lead is constructed by the journalist. It all depends on what the story is about, and what the purpose of the story is.

If it's a breaking news item, then all the important points should be brought into the lead. That is usually referred to as the Direct Lead. Typically, the lead paragraph would have the answer to the 5Ws (what, where, when, why and who) and 1H (how) relevant to the story.

This is the lead of a Guardian story today
Jeremy Corbyn has been warned by Labour’s leader in the European parliament and other grandees that the party will be deserted by millions of anti-Brexit voters if it fails to clearly back a second referendum in its manifesto for next month’s EU elections.
There are so many points covered in that one single sentence.

Then there are cases, especially with human interest, soft stories where the writer employs other devices like interesting quotes or an anecdote or just a few isolated words to begin the story. The main aim is to the raise the curiosity of the reader to the get to the rest of the story. These leads are called Delayed Leads.

This is a very nicely written lead of a New York Times story (What It Takes to Pull Off India’s Gargantuan Election) on the ongoing parliamentary polls in the country.
Democracy doesn’t get much simpler than one person, one vote. But what happens when that one person is a hermit living alone in a jungle temple surrounded by lions, leopards and cobras, miles from the nearest town?
In India, the election comes to him.
(By the way, the story is about the diversity of the 900 million electorate, and the efforts the government and the fiercely independent Election Commission are taking to ensure that as many people can vote. The story is worth a read.)


An impressive opening paragraph is important not just in journalism but in works of fiction as well. Two of the best-known examples in literature are these:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. 
That is the opening sentence of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And ...
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
That's the way Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities.

However, the only difference is in journalism, who the killer is revealed right in the first paragraph, while in fiction it is revealed in the last.


Back to journalism, the word lead has another meaning in the context of developing news as reported by the news agencies like the Reuters or the Associated Press.

In cases of developing stories like an accident or an ongoing issue with rapidly evolving developments, as and when more details trickle in, wire services rewrite the lead to incorporate more details. It's usually referred to as the 1st Lead, 2nd Lead, 3rd Lead, etc.

This is very helpful for radio and TV channel news bulletins, where they have to capture the full essence of a story in two or three sentences.

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2019".)


  1. Thank you for making the comment format more accessible, Pradeep. Your posts are so interesting that I'm sure they're inspiring a lot of feedback. Another terrific one today.

    I learned about front-loading--leading with the essentials of a story--back in the 1980s when I was writing feature articles for a local newspaper (although there wasn't much incentive to be succinct since I was paid by the inch!). Your six questions reminded me of this little mnemonic we must have learned sometime as kids:

    I had six honest serving men-they taught me all I knew/Their names were Where and What and When-and Why and How and Who.

    Another sense of lead came into my head when I read your title, since I started in letterpress printing, where we set type by hand with lead type. In typography jargon derived from letterpress, line spacing is known as "leading" literally referring to the thickness of the bars of lead set between them.

    Really enjoying your posts!


  2. Sad to say, a lot of articles in this era open with a *mis*leading statement. It's a frightening trend since most people don't read to the end and take away a false concept. I see it again and again within social media. Be well!

  3. @Josna - I am glad that the new comment is working for you.
    Thanks for reminding me about another meaning of "leading". Actually, I was thinking of including it. But forgot when I actually wrote the post. Good one.

    @Darla - You are spot on. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Useful statement. "Typically, the lead paragraph would have the answer to the 5Ws (what, where, when, why and who) and 1H (how) relevant to the story." In industrial engineering also we use these questions for process analysis. I shall try to remember this statement when I am writing first paragraphs of my articles. Thank you.

    My A to Z post Management Principles - Application in Operations Management

  5. @ Narayana -- Thank you for dropping by and for your comments. I shall check out your blog post.

  6. Yes, the lead only leads us to read it discard an article. If the lead gives us some inquisitiveness, despite our busy en gagement we will complete reading Interesting and impressive

  7. Hi Sarala - Thanks for dropping and for the comments.

  8. I thought it was spelled lede. I guess it can go both ways (according to Wikipedia).

  9. @ Liz - Ya, that's right. The spelling 'lede' was preferred in those days so that it won't be confused with the metal 'lead' that was used in the printing press.