Bleeding Ledes: Sharpen Your Newswriting to Hook More Readers

blog-newspaperIs the newspaper industry dead yet? Who cares about ledes and newswriting when all anyone reads anymore are blog posts about cats? In fact, 12 cats died today in a desperate bid to make readers more interested in actual news. Don’t put more cats at risk. Article writers, follow these tips to make your content cutting-edge and engaging, and far more than just click-bait.

Who’s Clicking?

If you want people to read, you have to convince them to click. And, the fact is that newspaper readership is down, and dropping every year. According to the Newspaper Association of America, even under the most forgiving statistics, young adults age 18-34 are only about two-thirds as likely to look at anything from a newspaper (including its website) than adults 55 and older.

So, what are these people reading instead? We know that young adults consume social media in far greater numbers than their parents or grandparents. It doesn’t take a visionary to figure out who won the readership war on the web: Buzzfeed.

Ledes vs Click-Bait

The traditional newswriting lede intends to draw in the reader with a very simple introduction that explains the basics of the story in an interesting fashion. Ledes are generally short, about 35-40 words. The Poynter Institute argues that ledes must represent the bloodiest edge of the story. If people died, got into a terrible fight, brought the police on scene or some similar situation, it belongs in the lede.

Ledes face a more difficult competition in the age of click-bait. “You’ll never believe how this plane blows up when…” But, click-bait usually fails to deliver. While the actual content of the story or video may surprise, it will not fortify the reader with interesting or useful information. If you make a big promise in your lede, you must adhere to it throughout the story. Mark Twain, if he has any awareness of the travesty of click-bait, is quivering in his fantastic mustache and cravat.

‘Was Mark Twain a cat person? Click here to find out which historical personnages favored the felines.’

No! STOP! Click-bait is lite beer. You want to serve up a sparkling wine.

Attract Shock

These days, to create newswriting that leaps off the page, but actually fosters some sense of fulfillment in the reader, you need a competitive lede. You want soul-crushing pain, tender agony that throttles the reader into submission, all in the first two sentences. ‘This is all well and good,’ article writers might say. ‘But, my summary of this city council meeting is hardly cutting-edge.’ Here, you can take a tip from one of the best sources of newswriting out there, The Onion. This satirical newspaper can make anything sound entertaining. The ledes get right to the point and declare what is most interesting.

Writing ledes to grapple with click-bait is like trying to argue with a two-year-old. If you keep it short and punchy, you might just get the message across without screaming.

Holly S is is a collector of the inane, especially loud cats, old books and idiosyncrasies.


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