Sunday, February 17, 2008

Your thoughts, please, about this lede

An interesting discussion is going on the ACES board about the lede on this story

PLANO – Everyone has had a day where 24 hours just doesn't seem like enough time. So you rush. First work runs late. Then you realize you are out of dog food and have to run by the store before going home.

For a 42-year-old Plano woman, that busy day was near an end when she stopped to check the mail in her apartment complex. There, a man forced her into the back seat of her car and ordered her to say nothing. Then he raped her.

Your thoughts, please. But make sure you read the ACES discussion to get a little of the backstory. It does introduce an interesting perspective on what the paper was trying to accomplish. Given that, I tend to agree a hard-news lede might not be the best. But was there a better way?

This is what I suggested on the ACES board. Remember, we are not in total rewrite mode here; we've been told the assigning desk is not budging, and the slot agrees. So the point now is to minimize the damage - reduce dissonance and maybe signal to the reader straight out what we're trying to get him or her to understand:

PLANO – In just one moment, an otherwise ordinary day can change into a major trauma. And the story of how that happened to a 42-year-old Plano woman now has police concerned it may be the sixth attack by a serial rapist.

It had been one of those days we all seem to have: Twenty-four hours just doesn't seem like enough time. She was rushed. Work ran late.

She finally had gotten to her apartment complex and stopped to check the mail when a man forced her into the back seat of her car and ordered her to say nothing. Then he raped her.

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At 2/17/08, 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It needed to have some sort of comment from the woman up in the 3rd graf or so. Some indication that the story is going to be about her.

What you have is this huge gulf between the inappropriate lede, and the reason why that lede is up there. Way it stands now, there's the lede, then hard news about the rapist. Readers who stop there will assume the reporter is an idiot.

At 2/17/08, 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand their reasoning, but I think this approach trivializes a serious incident. As a woman, it disgusts me.
I think they could have achieved what they were thinking of doing in a better way. I read your approach on the ACES board. Better, and I'm sure it could be improved further.
Not every crime story has to have the standard lede, but I think writers have to be careful on certain subjects, and rape is one of them.

At 2/21/08, 1:10 PM, Anonymous Angela said...

I'm not enough a part of the journalism world to feel comfortable offering my dissenting opinion here or on the ACES board, but I want to point out that when newspaper readers first encountered this story --unlike readers here or at ACES--they first read the headline, and possibly a picture and caption. Thus, their experience of the total story was quite different, from the very beginning, from our experience of the lede here.

At 2/21/08, 2:33 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...


Thanks so much for commenting. Always good to see a new name.

I think that's an excellent point and well taken. It's always an interesting discussion whether headlines help in such cases -- and some research suggests some people actually don't read them (or read them fully) at all, although that is a minority.

You came away feeling the headline helped. That's cool. I came away feeling that with this headline, the lede is even more jarring. I read a headline about a possible serial rapist and then we're talking about -- dog food?

I think FEV over at Headsuptheblog had an excellent summary of the uneasiness:
The originating desk offers this justification: "It conveys how an ordinary day can become a major trauma and this is why we want people to be aware of serial rapist." To which we can say: Fine. We do too. But this one really feels like a parody ("Some days suck, and then you're raped"), and it seems more likely to stir bafflement or anger than a reasoned awareness.

And if we leave our readers baffled with the lede, how many are going to continue with the story?

The story, as well, has some problems to my mind, most notably some points where it lapses into police-speak and bogs down. It seems to me the desk and writer were of a couple of minds here, neither of which came through clearly.


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