Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Feint Lede

Feinting is a good thing -- if you're a boxer trying to get in that knockout punch or a hockey player about to try a slap shot on goal.

It is not a good thing when trying to get to the point of a story with busy readers.

Yet we keep seeing these kinds of fake-em-out ledes in an attempt, I suppose, to try to sound friendly, folksy and chattery when the story that's about to follow is not likely to be any of the above. Thus we get ledes like this on a story today about biofuels and their impact on South Carolina:

TAYLORS - So this is what they're talking about.

Yep, that was it. A lede that does no work and is likely, at least for a second, to leave the reader going, Huh?

In almost all these cases, the lede is in the second graf; one of the reasons these feint ledes don't work is that they are just kind of tacked atop the story with no real integration. And that was the case in this one, too:

When presidental candidates talk up the benefits of alternative energy as a way to wean the country from its reliance on foreign oil and a potential boost to small communities, they have places like this spot in Greenville County in mind.
Now that's a perfectly serviceable lede that gets to the point -- at 41 words, though, a bit unwieldy (even for a second graf). Let's see if we can tighten:

TAYLORS - When presidential candidates say alternative energy can help wean the country from reliance on foreign oil and boost small communities, they have places like this Greenville County town in mind.
Down to a svelte 31 words, with the dateline added. (And you could argue that "reliance on" can go, slimming it further.)

OK, so we're not likely to stamp out the feint lede -- too seductive for a writer who wants to seem chatty, and likewise for some editors. But if we use them, we can at least make them do some work, like this:

TAYLORS - So this is what the presidential candidates are talking about.

When they say alternative energy can help wean the country from foreign oil and boost small communities, the candidates have places like this Greenville County town in mind.
It's really not all that hard to stop faking out our readers. (And it's 39 words for both grafs, fewer than the original second graf alone.)

Where were the editors on this one?

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