Lead the way to more coverage with strong ledes

Michael Wunder | Community Storyteller

It’s deadline day and your local newspaper editor is exhausted. After a long weekend of covering sports and community events, they’re tasked with assembling a 32-page newspaper in about 12 hours. They also must make it to tonight’s city council meeting, which starts in 15 minutes and can sometimes stretch upwards of two hours, depending on the agenda.

On top of all that, their email inbox is overflowing with spam, promotions, and press releases. Any way you slice it, their attention is limited. Only the best of the best is going to make it into that blank space on page A3.

What’s going to catch their attention? A strong lead (or “lede” for those of us who have sworn allegiance to the traditions of print media). A good lede should tell the reader everything they need to understand a story’s newsworthiness. To quote NCF Board Member and Norfolk Daily News alum Kent Warneke’s advice:

“Get the message of a press release out quickly. Every important point should be addressed in the first few sentences. The subsequent paragraphs should be for supporting information.”

Here’s a recent example of a successful lede from the Axtell Community Fund:

AXTELL – The Axtell Community Fund is proud to announce that Axtell Community School’s new weight room project is the recipient of a Youth Engagement Grant in the amount of $3,500 from an anonymous donor through Nebraska Community Foundation. As part of the grant, Axtell Community Fund will provide a matching contribution of $3,500 to total $7,000 for the school. These funds will be used to purchase new equipment for the facility.

This lede hits the reader right away with the essentials: the fund announced a grant to the local school’s weight room project. The following sentences provide more detail about how the donation will be used.

Here’s an example of a weak intro:

HOMETOWN, Neb. – A big announcement was made by the Hometown Community Fund today.

Why is it weak? Useful information is scarce, and it doesn’t particularly garner attention—thanks in part to the use of passive voice. Let’s spruce it up a little bit by adding active voice and essential information (here’s an overview of active and passive voice):

HOMETOWN, Neb. – The Hometown Community Fund today invested $5,000 in a local food pantry to meet the needs of Hometown residents struggling with food scarcity.

How did we improve this lede? By adding the journalism staples of “who, what, when, where, and why.” In the above example, the “who” in this case is the fund; the “what” is the announcement of the gift to the pantry; the “when” is the date of the announcement; the “where” is your community; and the “why” is the reason for giving—in this case, the “why” is meeting the needs of neighbors experiencing hard times.

Let’s break down the example to show how each component fits into the overall lede:

HOMETOWN, Neb. – The Hometown Community Fund (who) today (when) invested $5,000 (what) in a local food pantry to meet the needs of Hometown residents (where) struggling with food scarcity (why).

Give it a try on your own and see what you come up with! If you have any questions or want help with a release, please reach out to the NCF marketing team. And don’t forget our other marketing tips!

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