Thursday, March 10, 2005

Troublesome ledes

Here's another example of why today's pressed-for-time readers won't wade through the way we've always done things, such as this lede and second graf on an L.A. Times story (augmented slightly by the local paper here):

Greenville native Charles Townes, the co-inventor of the laser who shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1964 and then startled the scientific world by suggesting religion and science were converging, was awarded the $1.5 million Templeton Prize for progress in spiritual knowledge Wednesday.
The prize -- the proceeds of which Townes plans to largely donate to religious and academic institutions, including his alma mater, Furman University -- recognized groundbreaking and controversial leadership in the mid-1960s in bridging science and religion.

That lede is a 44-word behemoth, followed by a 35-word second graf that makes us wend our way through clause and phrase before getting to the point. And do you say "the proceeds of which"?

Try pruning a bit:
Greenville native and Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes, who startled the scientific world by suggesting religion and science were converging, was awarded the $1.5 million Templeton Prize for progress in spiritual knowledge Wednesday. That gets us down to 33 words. Do we need the passive form "was awarded"? I left it to point out that it depends on your judgment: Using "won" might imply that he somehow competed. But we use "won" for the Nobel, so why not here? And is the day of the week really important here? It produces that awkward construction momentarly suggesting the spiritual knowledge was on Wednsday. So let's rework just a bit more, and work on the second graf at the same time. We also need a place for that information about the laser and physics, and the third graf provides it.

Greenville native and Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes, who startled the scientific world by suggesting religion and science were converging, has won the $1.5 million Templeton Prize for progress in spiritual knowledge.
The prize, awarded Wednesday, recognized groundbreaking and controversial leadership in the mid-1960s in bridging science and religion. Townes plans to donate most of the money to religious and academic institutions, including his alma mater, Furman University.
Townes, the co-inventor of the laser, shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1964. [After winning the Templeton Prize, he] said no greater question faced humankind than discovering the purpose and meaning of life -- and why there is something rather than nothing in the cosmos.

Now, before you jump on me for those square brackets -- and if you've read much here you know I hate them -- that's just a note to check when he said that. Otherwise, it might be confused that he said it back in the 1960s.

But now I think we have a much more accessible story, one that does not require the reader to pull on the waders first.

Writing Coach John Rains also has a good post about ledes on his blog.

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