Ledes: Good vs. Just OK

Ledes are hard to write. They set the tone for the rest of the news story and often determine whether people read the rest of the story at all. As an OK lede writer, I respect a good lede when I see one.

I saw a good one published today by The New York Times. The start of “Calls to Charge Driver Grow After Couple’s Newborn Dies” reads like this:

Minutes before the crash, they were strangers inhabiting vastly different Brooklyns.

This sentence made me want to read the rest of the story. The sentence began with “minutes before the crash,” so I know the tale is tragic. Most importantly, though, it made me curious. Who were strangers? What were their Brooklyns like? How did they cross paths and become no longer strangers? In my opinion, the questions the lede raised combined with the lede’s wording made it very effective.

The mediocre-lede-of-the-day award goes to an article published Feb. 8 on the website of my hometown newspaper, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Dekalb Superintendent Atkinson replaced by former Georgia labor commissioner” begins with the following sentence:

Cheryl Atkinson is out and former Georgia labor commissioner Michael Thurmond is in as leader of the Dekalb County School District, the third largest in the state.

This tells me pretty much all I need to know: After Dekalb County School District’s latest administrative fiasco, Atkinson has finally left and has a replacement. As an alumna of the district who has been following this topic, I don’t think I necessarily need to read the rest of the story. Also, I could tell the writer was trying to be conversational with his use of “out” and “in,” but I thought that made the wording awkward.

To make this lede more effective, I would at least reword it and nix the “in”/”out” language. I might also include the fact that this decision wasn’t made right away — the school board had to vote twice to reach the decision to remove Atkinson.

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