Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Feint left, jab right

Yes, I know it's been a while, but these are the busy times in the bowels of the Coliseum (aka, the journalism school), and what with grading and presentations -- oh yeah, and teaching -- things get behind.

I am stirred to write again, however, by the rather regular cyclical emergence, sort of like tulips in spring, of the "feint" lede. This is the one that starts the reader down one path, only to have the story jerk him or her back the other way. Or worse, such ledes are verbal gingerbread tacked on top of a story in the idea the story will be more "readable" when all they really do is waste precious space and readers' time

Like the spring tulips, they appear in cycles in my local paper (the same one that never met a quote headline it didn't gush over), and we seem to be on an up-cycle right now. So it's worth pointing out these weeds among the roses. Hopefully, your desk will have some powerful herbicide; the local desk appears to have run out.

Our first specimen (I'll save you the e-mail or comment -- Vsion is CQ.):

Call it the vagaries of the downtown housing market.

The developers of Vsion -- a 110-unit condominium complex slated for an old office building in Columbia -- have called off the project, citing slow pre-sales and a tough economy.

But at the same time, a local optometrist is set to build the city's most expensive condos. The 11-unit building in the Vista will have a penthouse selling for $1.5 million, which could set a record for Columbia.

Call that lede silly. Lop it off and start with the other two. Do you feel as though you've missed some important point? Did the lede do any work? No. And then when you read the story, you find out it's not about the "vagaries" of the downtown markt; it's the vagaries of the lending climate that now require condo builders to presell a percentage of their condos before lenders will make a loan. Vsion was a large project; the other one is smaller. Voila, sell the same number of condos in a smaller project and you meet that threshhold.

From the silly to the insulting:

It was a different kind of hostage situation.

Police knew there was a woman inside the McDonald's at 2033 Decker Blvd., hiding under the table. But the man inside with the gun didn't have a clue.

Maybe it was a different kind of hostage situation, but it's the same old tired writing. Do you mean to tell me that second graf isn't powerful enough by itself?

And a bonus from today's morning paper, this headline:

Public kudos are a nice new chapter for volunteers

Know what's wrong?

Turn to your AP stylebook -- kudos is a singular; it takes a singular verb. It might look a little odd, but the correct hed is

Public kudos is a nice new chapter for volunteers

And now off to Denver and the American Copy Editor Society annual meeting. If you are going, I'll be doing two presentations on the Web. Drop by the Denver room of the Marriott City Center on Thursday and Friday afternoon.

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At 4/12/08, 3:47 AM, Blogger ColdSoreSuperstar said...


I'm quite guilty of the "feint" lede. Or at least on one of my latest stories.

Actually, I can fall into that trap quite a bit.

I feel dirty.

At 4/14/08, 10:00 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Actually, I kind of expect writers to use these ledes -- sometimes it's the only way to mentally get into writing the story.

Cool. If that helps, do it. I've done it many times over the years.

The problem is not coming back and taking a hard look at it once the story is done. What you'll usually find is that the next grafs are actually the ones doing the work and can easily be reshaped into a solid lede.

Yes, writers should do this, but even more so, desks should not let ledes like this pass without a cold, hard look.

At 4/14/08, 4:38 PM, Blogger Mair said...

The "Call it" and "Don't call it" ledes and heds are just plain cheap (and a dime a dozen).


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