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“Burying the lead” and news monetization

by Greg Krehbiel on 1 May 2017

Web writers need to get back to the habit of starting their stories with the main point.

The classical way to write a news story is to start off with the main point, then provide details, follow up with other facts and relevant information, etc.

That style is very respectful of the reader, who immediately knows if the article is on a topic he cares about. He can decide within a few seconds if he wants to read the rest.

I just saw a page that began, “I woke to the sound of ….”

Grrrr. That’s a good way to get me to leave your site.

With shorter attention spans these days, you’d think that we need the classic news writing style more than ever.

There are other factors in play here. Time spent on the page is a valuable metric for a website owner. So if one style gets people to linger a bit, and scroll, that’s better — as far as the website owner is concerned — even if it’s frustrating to the reader.

(I don’t know if that’s the actual reason people bury the lead and start with a bunch of useless fluff. It just seems likely.)

I think it’s a good idea to quickly leave pages that bury the lead. If enough people do that, web writers will get back to better journalism.

(If you’re curious, “lead” and “lede” both mean the same thing in this context — “the opening sentence or paragraph of a news article, summarizing the most important aspects of the story.” For some reason I find “lede” annoying — probably from my general dislike of jargon — so I avoid it.)

2017-05-01  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 4

  1. Scott Wicker
    1 May 2017 @ 4:34 pm

    Instead of being taught how to write, reporters these days are taught how to spew politically correct buzzwords. Most of them probably don’t even know what a ‘lead’ is. They probably think it is something you shoot at people during a drive-by.

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    1 May 2017 @ 4:42 pm

    I’m afraid a lot of “news” nowadays amounts to an attempt to find something outrageous that somebody has said, preferably somebody we don’t like so we can make fun of them.

  3. William
    1 May 2017 @ 10:39 pm

    In some ways, isn’t this a chicken and egg issue? The media wouldn’t often sensationalize the news if the public didn’t consume it in mass quantities (thus increasing sales/ratings). Yet, the public might not have such a hunger for garbage if the media didn’t feed it to them regularly. So, which entity needs to change first to break this vicious circle?

  4. Nathan
    2 May 2017 @ 9:17 am

    This reminds me of the common complaint about the TV coverage of the Olympics. Part of the country wants stories about the athletes backgrounds — it’s all about a story and narrative. Part of the country wants events and results. I think that there’s (at least?) two different ways of preferred media consumption, and the story form is more prevalent right now.

    I’d suspect that the more financially-oriented news sites are better about facts and not wasting audience’s time.