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,


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