“Held a news conference” (or how many news agencies does it take to write one good lead about a naked on-fire guy?)

Leads are incredibly complicated things to learn how to write. You have to pack a ton of information into about 25 words, cover the 5Ws and 1H, hit on the FOCII interest elements that are present, engage your readers and draw people deeper into a story. That’s a tough thing for one sentence to pull off.

One way to guarantee you will put people to sleep is to focus on procedure leads. Any time you have to tell me that someone “gave a speech and…” or “held a news conference and…” or “held a meeting and…” I’m guessing the news (whatever there is) is sitting right after the word “and.” It’s not fair to say you can NEVER write a “held a news conference” lead, but let’s just say when you have a naked guy that the cops set on fire with a taser, you’re probably missing the bigger news. Consider this story’s lead:

MANITOWOC, Wis. (WBAY) — Manitowoc Police held a news conference Tuesday to address the tasing of a naked man during a struggle with officers.

Why would a reader care that the police held a news conference? Let’s consider the other items that might make the lead before that:

  1. It took three taser hits to get this guy under control.
  2. One of those tasings connected with a lighter in his hand, creating a “flame burst” that set his beard and chest hair on fire. (or at least “singed” him, depending on your point  of view)
  3. He punched a cop in the face and continued to struggle throughout the arrest.
  4. Did we mention he was in the middle of the street naked?
  5. He appeared to be under the influence of something and had a warrant out for his arrest in a nearby town “for something OWI-related.”

However, in the noun-verb-object structure we so love to discuss in the “Dynamics” books, what we have here is:

Police hold news conference.


EXERCISE TIME: Give this a try. Look up all the information on this guy and his weird exchange with the police (you can even watch the whole presser online) and write a better lead. The rules:

  • Write it as if you covered the news conference today. Thus, “Tuesday” is your time element or “Sunday” is your arrest day (if you want to go that route)
  • It must be one sentence, 25-35 words, and touch on as many of the 5Ws and 1H as possible.
  • Apply the FOCII elements (Fame, Oddity, Conflict, Immediacy, Impact) when you write it.

Post your version here and let folks see what you came up with.

Leave a Reply