Ecologne's Blog
words tend to linger

Following the Leader

Before anything else, I have to say: if you’re a new journalist, have been in journalism for longer than you have the ability to remember now, or have any interest in the field of journalism, I advise you to check out The Poynter’s Institute online training courses at NewsU. It is filled with tons of free, and some not so free, courses for aspiring journalists in just about any area a journalist would need, such as The Lead Lab.

For this week’s Topic of the Week, we in the COMM 4333 class had to participate in NewsU’s Lead Lab. In short, it is a free, interactive online training course on the basics of crafting the lead to any story– taught by visiting associate professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Chip Scanlan.

When you begin the course, there’s an explanation of what a lead is and what it means and does for the story you are writing. Usually that part is self-explanatory. The course then goes into a full breakdown of the different types of leads used for different kinds of stories. For example, a hard news lead is going to be quicker and to the point; it will be direct and is aimed more toward an audience who just wants the news. A soft news lead may be more delayed in giving all the facts right away and is aimed to the audience with a little more time and who is looking for their news with a story. Let’s review that to make it clearer:

2 Types of Leads:

  1. Direct: “Tell me the news”
  2. Delayed: “Tell me a story” (typically used when the reader already knows the story)

Well constructed leads will always inform the reader of the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How (the better ones will make clear the “So What?”).

Through taking this course, I learned a little more about the different Direct and Delayed lead approaches and even got to try writing my own lead that I submitted to NewsU at the end. The do-it-yourself segment at the end is the most helpful because you are set up to craft both a hard news and a soft news lead based on a real story given by the course complimented with professional journalist notes.

It is certainly a course worth taking your time with, if not for the factual education on the leads, then for the hands-on experience at the end.


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