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LEADS Once your journalistic research is done and you have a strong sense of how you want to organize

the material, it is time to think of a lead. Sometimes, you will have thought of the lead as you are gathering material, and the organization will flow from it. But remember that in journalism, the perfect is often the enemy of the good: ook for a good beginning, not the perfect lead. !enerally, it is better to rough out the article and then come back to wrestling with the lead. " have provided a chapter on organization before discussing leads because many writers either get hung up at the lead or construct a pretty lead that does not connect well with the bulk of the article. #emember that most leads do not have to be grabbers: $hey can ease readers into stories. %eature leads, like other parts of articles, vary in length according to the size of the overall article, but their purpose remains the same: $hey are to give the reader a sense of what the article is about, establish a mood, and entice the reader to march on. %eature leads are not supposed to summarize the news. %eature and standard newspaper leads are opposites: $he latter variety is designed to save the reader from reading the entire story, but the former is to push him or her into doing that. $here are many different kinds of leads: " have listed eight here, four of which are generally superior, four of which need to be handled with care. Superior Leads %irst on the superior list is the anecdotal lead: "t is often the best because it gives readers a character with whom to identify and action to grasp. "n directed reporting, an anecdotal lead is a specific ministory that begins teaching the reader about the nature of the overall problem. &ere is an e'ample: (im !old was bankrupt, burdened with depression, and, through it all, born again. &e was also wide awake, notwithstanding the handwritten note left on his windshield: )*ake up fool+ %orests aren,t just for chopping down. -any of us prefer to have them for owls and recreation, rather than have fatso fools like you chop them down, never to be replaced. ook over your shoulder. .arth %irst is watching you+) $he threatening note was long on sentiment and short on scholarship. But it wasn,t just a product of an eco/terrorist,s bad/hair day. "t was, in fact, a seedy but faithful reflection of federal policy. "t was not what !old needed after perching for 0 123 frustrating hours on the boom of his swing yarder in front of the *ashington capitol in Olympia. &e would rather have been harvesting timber in the vast forests of the Olympic 4eninsula where he had operated an independent logging business for 15 fulfilling years. 6ow the 7.S. %ish and *ildlife Service, armed with the .ndangered Species 8ct, had locked up federal timberlands. 8nd, in !old,s words, the state had then )caved in to the federal government,) locking up most state timber as well. )9ou,ve !one $oo %ar) read the placard mounted beside him on the rusty boom. "t was a last whimper from a van:uished culture, catching only the ear of a state trooper who ordered !old to move his machine away from the unmoved and unmoving legislature. $here was nothing left to do but abandon the yarder for the bank to sell for scrap. &e returned to his home north of &o:uiam, drained in pocket and in heart. 8necdotal leads are good for arousing immediate interest by involving the reader in the story. Often, anecdotes with people in them humanize what could be dry, or personalize what could be merely sensational. $he anecdotal lead has to be true to the rest of the story: "t should be colorful but directed, accurately representing the article and pointing the reader to it. 8n anecdote that is colorful but does not begin directing the reader to a deeper understanding of the problem can be used further down, but should not be the lead. $he anecdote should be factual, an actual scene, not a composite or a product of the imagination. Second on the superior list is the descriptive lead: "t presents a scene without including characters or action. 8 descriptive lead works particularly well when the physical setting or the emotional mood is key, as in this e'ample. 8 large black crow is furiously flapping against the blustery south wind sweeping over the desert of northern 6ew -e'ico. Silhouetted by rolling mounds of cracked orange sand that roll upwards into a perfect blue sky, the crow is neither moving forwards nor backwards. "t is only maintaining, bounced up and down by wind sheers whipping under and over it. Such is the case today with those trapped in pockets of rural poverty in 8merica. $he neglected segment of 8mericans that are the rural poor finds that it is a battle to maintain while faced with a barrage of forces bouncing it up and down like a cork. $he rate of rural poverty in 8merica ;15.1 percent< is higher than the much more publicized rate of urban poverty ;1=.> percent<. *hy doesn,t the crow ascend to higher, more helpful winds? "ts instinctual nature should tell it to do so. 9et it seems frozen in space, destined to remain in the currents it now rides. "n thirty minutes, would it still be there? ikewise, social and cultural forces such as government dependency and ill/e:uipped churches seem to be keeping many rural poor people stuck in thin air. @escriptive leads are photographs rather than videotapes, but they can focus wonderfully. $hird on the superior list is the situation lead: "t presents a problem and raises a sense of conflict or suspense about how a person will escape. &ere is an e'ample: "t,s just after 11 p.m., and &ouston police officer 8l eonard has his gun drawn as the elderly black man approaches the patrol car. $he Amm pistol is out of sight, pointing through the car door. eonard rolls down his window and casually greets the man. )*hat can " do for you?) $he man shakes his head in disgust. )Some kids,) he says. )$hey was throwing bricks. 7p over there on the corner. Broke my windshield. -usta been 1B or 13 of them.) eonard nods. )*hen did it happen?) )%ew minutes ago. . . .) *hat will 8l eonard do? $he lead pushes us to read onC it is a purposefully incomplete anecdote. 8 situation lead should end with a sense of imminent trouble, or at least a circumstance demanding resolution. %ourth on the superior list is the multivignette lead: "t communicates a sense that many people are undergoing a particular problem. 9ou can show several actual e'amplesDdo not make them upDand thus communicate the reality. Although she wanted more children, Janet White felt that a tubal ligationsevering the fallopian tubeswas "the thing to do." Never questioning the "pressure from society for small families," she felt she had pushed the limit with three. ut since then, her desire for more children has intensifiedafter her ability to have them was gone.

Jennifer arfield!s marriage, on the other hand, was in shambles. "he didn!t want her husband around the two children they already had. #er husband didn!t seem to care, so she too$ the bus to a doctor!s office and had the option of more children surgically removed from her life. %t became a decision she and her second husband later regretted. John ar&a underwent sterili'ation surgery because doctors warned that pregnancy might endanger his wife!s health. %t nagged at him for (( years. 6ow, in the early EABs, a number of men and women, because of various circumstances, are changing their minds. 8 small but slowly growing movement is taking a closer look at the rights and wrongs of reproductive sterilization. . . . #andle)with)*are +eads 8long with the superior or classic feature leads, four others are useful, but should be used sparingly. $he summary)leadis the first type of sparingly used opener. $his mainstay of news reporting is rare in a feature story, but useful when leading into a first/person account or some other story that will appear to have minor news value unless its significance is e'plained. Summaries of this kind should be printed in italics, with the main story in standard typeC for e'ample: ,resident *linton!s proposal to allow openly homose-ual men and lesbians to serve in the military is in obvious trouble on *apitol #ill. .uring "enate hearings on the proposal, influential lawma$ers have pushed a compromise "don!t)as$)don!t tell" policy, which would prohibit recruiting officers from inquiring about the se-ual practices of potential enlistees while effectively $eeping homose-ual soldiers in the closetfor now. #ours of e-pert testimony have dealt with the negative impact of open homose-uality on combat effectiveness, unit cohesion, and esprit de corps in the armed services. . . . What the senatorsand by e-tension, the publicsaw illustrated was the prospect that the way of life that has preserved their freedom could be destroyed. %s it a way of life worth preserving/ *orld sent Norm omer, editor of the 0od!s World current)events newspapers, to Nellis Air 1orce ase in Nevada, where the top guns of the top guns train, to observe military life firsthand. #ere is his report. $he heads/up flight data display monitor blocked my view directly ahead. " couldn,t see the pilot, Fol. Bentley #ayburn, until he leaned slightly to the side and peered around at me. &is eyes twinkled from under his gray helmet. " knew his o'ygen mask covered a joyous grin. " grinned back with a thumbs up that belied unconvincingly my gripping nausea. " had adjusted the power air vents between my knees to hit me full in the face. " wasn,t sure Fol. #ayburn could distinguish my skin from my olive drab flight suit. . . .) $he story goes on to show, through action, the esprit de corps of the flyers, and suggests that it can readily be threatened by congressmen who do not ask about it and do not care to listen when officers tell them. $he quotation lead is the second type of sparingly used opener. "t often does not work because the :uotation needs to be e'plained, and e'planation slows down the story. But if a person is :uoted while in action or in an evocative situation, a :uotation lead can work, as in the following e'ample. Brian, a young scriptwriter, sinks deeper into his chair but speaks into his jacket collar loud enough to be heard. )8 friend who was working on the set with #iver 4hoeni' last summer said that he was shooting heroin between his toes every day. *hat did " do with that? 8ll " did was take it and gossip it. " didn,t intercede for him. " never prayed for #iver 4hoeni'.) $here is a long moment of :uiet in the fellowship hall at Sherman Oaks 4resbyterian Fhurch, where a normally chatty group of &ollywood writers, directors, and producers called 8ssociates in -edia has gathered for its monthly meeting. $he ne't day the coroner,s office for os 8ngeles Founty will confirm that 4hoeni', who collapsed Oct. =1 outside a &ollywood night club, died of a massive drug overdose. $he boo$)e-cerpt lead is the third type of sparingly used opener. "t should only be used to present a gripping story directly tied to the theme of the article that brings in foreshadowing, foreboding, or some other form of drama, tension, or suspense. %or e'ample, a story about psychobabble began: 8 man claims, )" am !od.) &e is breathing hard and writhing. #ichard !anz hesitates, then responds by reading the 6ew $estament: )%alse Fhrists and false prophets will arise.) $he man suddenly calms down and asks what !anz is reading from. !anz gives him the 6ew $estament. %our weeks later the man calmly walks into !anz,s office and announces, )" want to become a Fhristian.) #ichard !anz was a clinical psychologist working at a state hospital. $he man who claimed to be !od had not spoken a word for several years. 6or did he speak again until he told !anz that he wanted to convert. 8fter that, however, he could not stop speaking of the healing power of (esus Fhrist. &e was able to leave the state hospital soon afterward, a changed man. Shortly after he left, !anz left too. !anz was also a changed man. Before the incident he had been a secular psychologist who happened to be a Fhristian. But when confronted with an apparent incurable who suddenly wanted to know about the gospel, !anz became a Fhristian counselor. &is boss gave him a chance to apologize for using the Bible and pledge to sin no more, but he refused. $hat account of #ichard !anz,s heresy and resulting e'communication from secular psychology is described in )Fonfessions of a 4sychological &eretic,) the first chapter of his forthcoming book ,sychobabble2 3he 1ailure of 4odern ,sychologyand the iblical Alternative . !anz,s work is the latest sally in a battle taking place within evangelicaldom over the value of clinical psychotherapy within Fhristianity. 8nd the controversy is growing. $he essay lead is the fourth type of sparingly used opener. "t lends itself to pontificating. %or e'ample, this lead came in a draft and had to be e'cised. $o most outsiders, #ussia is a country with little hope. . . . Still others think that #ussia is stumbling toward stability. . . . Both perspectives, however, are right. #ussia is a country in economic and political despair, yet there are glimmers of hope that remain. . . . $his lead was actually throat clearing, a false lead before the story,s real beginning in a fourth paragraph that showed the )kiosks and tables all through the city that sell anything from live chickens to furniture. . . .) Guantitatively and :ualitatively, lead writers have great variety to choose from. $he length of a lead often is tied to the length of the articleD short for short, long for long. 8 good rule of thumb is that the lead should not be more than 1B percent of the story, but there is much leeway. $he crucial point to keep in mind is that the lead should draw attention to the theme of the story, not to itself.

ead construction is not either2or. "t is not necessary to adopt one or another of the types of lead listed aboveC forms can be combined, as long as the lead does not dither but comes to a point. $he following opener, for e'ample, is both descriptive and anecdotal. "nside a small Bedouin goods shop in (erusalem,s Old Fity, the smell of strong 8rab coffee cuts through the foreign aromas that have combined into a confusing but unforgettable blend. Outside the shop, a commotion . . . reaches a peak. Shouts and screams in 8rabic are heard, and a moment later an 8rab youth is carried away atop the shoulders of eight or 1B of his friends. &is shirt is off and blood from knife/wounds flows freely. . . . 6ut grafs *hat comes directly after the lead goes by many namesDpoint statement, theme/paragraph thesis, justifierDbut " like the pungent journalistic e'pression, nut graf. $he nut graf is the essence, the underlying idea of a story. !enerally following an anecdotal or descriptive lead, the nut graf gives the basic news value and describes the significance of what the reader has just been shown. $he nut graf is e'pository writing: 8fter a lead that shows, the nut graf tells. $he nut graf is vital because it e'plains that the story is not about an isolated incident, but that many people are affected. ack of a nut graf confuses readers and opens the door to dithering. ack of one also wastes a good author,s tool: Once the nut graf is in place, sentences and paragraphs throughout the body can be measured against it and discarded if they do not help to make the point or provide reflection upon it. $he nut graf should be one paragraph, sometimes one sentence. &ere are various e'amples: $his scenario is far/fetched, but proposed legislation in Fongress that would establish a nation wide computer/tracking system for inoculations is getting a closer look. H 8nd that,s not the only problem. $he president is counting on national an'iety over a )health care crisis) to generate support for his plan. But the public is unsure that there,s really a crisis at all. H $he shy, reclusive ninth/grade dropout from $e'as has evolved into a despotic cult leader, able to command hundreds of followers and hold off IBB federal agents for days outside his dusty -ount Farmel compound. H 6BF has handed a sword to those who believe that many journalists deserve skewering. $his abortionist shortage represents the soft underbelly of the multi/million dollar industry that has grown up around the concept of choice and personal sovereignty. H 4risons are in the news this month because a #epublican/sponsored amendment to 4resident Flinton,s crime bill ;up for debate in both the &ouse and the Senate< sets aside J= billion for new jails. But Fhristian leaders are divided over whether more prisons are necessary. 9ou should remember that readers want news, but they want it in an interesting, lively way. $hey want color but need connection. 9ou can kill two birds with one nut grafDdraw the reader forward by hinting at what is coming. &ere is an e'ample of how to go from lead to nut. %irst, you powerfully present the situation. $hey kicked open his door in the middle of the night during a power outage last month, blinded him with flashlights while others in the house were being beaten and interrogated. Si' others who accompanied @ennis Balcombe on that trip to mainland Fhina last month were arrested as well. $hree are still missing, at first rumored to be e'ecuted, but now said to be held without being allowed visitors. $hen comes the nut graf: @ennis Balcombe sees little of the progress Fhina is claiming in its human rights record, progress the Flinton administration says must be made before Fhina,s -ost %avored 6ation trade status is e'tended in (une. Fhina, Balcombe says after his four/day ordeal, is repeating the atrocities of -ao. 8n investigative report often presents the subject in action. %irst comes the lead. Satanists and the demon/possessed show up fre:uently in Bob arson,s ministry, and they love to dial 1/KBB/K31/$8 L for apocalyptic showdowns with the energetic radio talk/show host. %or two hours every day, via satellite from @enver, almost 3BB radio stations across the country hear arson,s slugfest with the supernatural, )$alk/Back) with Bob arson. )*hat do you want? -r. -il:uetoast?) he says in a promotional tape. )&ey, flip the dial. $his is me, this is real, this is E$alk/Back.,) $hen the nut graf: But 1= past arson associates interviewed for this storyDnine speaking openly, four confidentiallyDchallenge arson,s public image. $he follies of secular liberalism often lead to a three/part lead/nut opening. %irst comes the news, with an emphasis on how big media spun it. 6ine women members of Fongress marched last week in an attempt to swing the vote on demoting 8dm. %rank Lelso upon his retirementDjust as some women marched during the 8nita &illMFlarence $homas hearings. $he press covered last week,s march with the same ear for righteous indignation given to -iss &ill and her supporters among the nation,s feminist leaders. Second, spotlight the contradiction. But so far, no one has marched for 4aula (ones. "n fact, most people haven,t heard of the 3>/year/old woman who states that she was se'ually harassed by then/governor Bill Flinton in 1AA1. 6or have the press or feminist leaders taken up her causeDone based on more evidence than was -iss &ill,s. $hird, provide the e'planatory nut ;and sometimes a good :uotation works well here<. )"t,s politics, pure and simple,) says $im !raham, associate editor of 4edia Watch.)$here,s such a dramatic difference between this and the response to the charges made by 8nita &ill. *ith 8nita &ill, there was no need to check her background, to check her witnesses, to check her

facts. 3he Washington ,ost ran the 8nita &ill allegations the day after the story broke. But now, it says it,s taking months to investigate 4aula (ones,s allegations.) $he nut graf is a highly directed part of World reporting style. By itself, it can be obno'iousC but when it follows specific detail and leads into a strong body, readers need and value it. Running the Race: The Body of the Story -any stories that start well become mushy in the middle: $here is no se:uence of ideas and sensations, no pattern of cause and effect, no narrative, no pearlsDjust puddles. &ere is where it is important to turn constantly to the nut graf, and to remember that your goal is to convey information in support of that point. 8sk yourself every step of the way as you write: *hat is my point? *riters who are trained in writing for newspapers or writing for children sometimes fear long sentences, on the theory that they slow down readers. 8ctually, a well/organized longer sentence takes no longer to read than a series of short sentences, because periods are like stop signs. $he real issue is comple'ity of material. $he more complicated the idea, the shorter the sentences and paragraphs should be, in order to slow down the reader. But a narrative sentence can be long if it is good. Leep thinking of readers, and then help them by relating the unknown to the known ;for e'ample, faraway place N is like nearby place 9<. @o not overuse confusing statistics or technical information: 8 little goes a long way. $ranslate jargon into regular .nglish, and give a face to a fact by e'plaining macro matters in human terms: et the small represent the large. Leeping readers in mind is especially important when dealing with big numbers. "nstead of merely noting that the national debt is about J0 trillion, you should point out that there are about 1BB million ta'payersC thus the average ta'payer,s portion of the national debt is about J0B,BBB. "nstead of merely mentioning that 6ew 9ork spent J3 billion in ten years on 30,BBB homeless persons, you should do the division problem for the skimming reader and note that the per person per year e'penditure was JKBBB. ogical transitions also contribute to the cause of moving readers from one chunk of information to the ne't. *rite tightly, but do not neglect transitional words such as and, but, nevertheless, still, meanwhile . @o not bury good information in the middle of a paragraph. Ley points of emphasis are the beginnings and ends of sentences, paragraphs, and stories. 9our best stuff should be in the most emphatic locations. Some editors use readability formulas. #udolph %lesch in the 1AIBs had a famous one: &e called seventeen to nineteen words per sentence ideal, and desired 10B syllables per one hundred words. #obert !unning,s )fog inde') in the 1A5Bs had writers adding the average number of words per sentence and the percentage of words having three or more syllables, then multiplying by B.I to determine the number of years of school the reader would need in order to understand. 4ractical literacy has decreased during the past three decades, so it is even more important to pay attention to reading capacities. Still, commonsense checking may work better than formulas. %or e'ample, reader/friendly prose places the subject before the verb, uses the active voice rather than the passive, and uses the past tense. Some novice writers think that present tense is better because it supposedly makes the action more immediate, but it also can make reporting sound like a breathless romance novel. $he most important thing to remember throughout the body of the article is the inclusion of specific detail. Beginning writers often fall in love with their material and try to compress anecdotes and description so they can force everything in. Sometimes even e'perienced reporters with a lot to say cut out descriptive and narrative material so they can include all their points. But good stories re:uire showing, not telling, and showing takes space: Selection, not compression, is the key. 9ou may also find it possible to use :uotations more concisely. $ry not to :uote more than a sentence at a time ;unless the goal is to throw a spotlight on the sentences themselves, as in this book<. *hen :uotations just state facts, put them in your own words, unless it is important that a particular person is acknowledging a particular fact. Guote colorful words: )$he sacks are juiced) is better than, )$he bases are loaded.) "n general, end :uotations with )he said,) unless you want to call attention to his particular way of saying. Noted implies that you agree with what the speaker is saying, argued that you disagree. 4aintained means he is sticking to his story,insisted means that he is under fire. *hen in doubt, stick tosaidDit moves the story along, without calling attention to words of attribution. $ry to use, subtly, some literary devices, such as alliteration ;words in a sentence beginning with the same initial letter<, assonance ;same internal sound<, and onomatopoeia, which features the sounds of a word or words suggesting the meaning: Bees buzz. 8nother way to summarize material :uickly is to :uote public/policy jargon but, instead of going on about it, merely place the :uestion under the biblical lens. &e defines behavioral poverty as a )cluster of social pathologies including dependency and eroding work ethic, lack of educational aspiration and achievement, inability to control one,s children, increased single parenthood and illegitimacy, criminal activity, and drug and alcohol abuse.) "n a word, sin. (ournalists sometimes fall into some of the mistakes listed above, but if you are a typical writer you will be particularly susceptible to the sin of coveting so/called inspiration and not working unless you have it. #emember, though, that although good writers work in a variety of ways, they all work hard. Some prefer morning, some afternoonC some write by hand, some type at computersC some need silence, some do well with children running through the room. $he common denominator in success is perseverance: keeping at it, staying with it. ike a baseball player, you might get a hit the first time up and then strike out four times. Similarly, you might strike out in the first inning and hit a game/winning home run in the ninth. *hen you do get stuck, ask yourself if you have done enough reporting. "f the answer is yes and you still are stuck, you might try to describe to a friend what you saw or found outC type your good :uotations, write lead/ins and follow/ups to them, and then eliminate some of the :uotationsC imagine yourself telling the story to a childDand then, and then. *hen the writing is going very poorly, you might try typing a page or two :uickly without worrying about the sense of itC then print out the page;s<, circle what is important, and rearrange the circled materials into an outline. Other writing tips include: Be sure to identify in some way the people you :uote or citeC vary sentence structure and lengthC andDas $. S. .liot said when a young writer asked for adviceDwhen it is cold, wear long underwear. %or a good, brief compilation of basic stylistic pointers, you might pick up the classic and readily available little book by *ill Strunk and .. B. *hite entitled 3he 5lements of "tyle . ENDS .ndings give readers a sense of closure and a sense that the writer knows what he is doing. 9ou need to ask yourself what you want the reader to rememberC often, last is most in memory. 9ou should compare the lead and the ending: $hey should make the same point. ;Sometimes, they can be more effective if switched.< Of the several different types of endings, summary endings ;like summary leads< are functional but weak. %our popular kinds of endings are the metaphorical, the ne't step, the nail/it/shut, and the circular. *ith all four kinds, do not hesitate to appeal to the emotions as well as to the intellect.

8 metaphorical ending works well when you want to evoke a response either by making a biblical reference or placing the problem you have reported on in some other cultural conte't. %or e'ample, a story on the highly publicized tug/of/war concerning an adopted child ended, )6o one is proposing that the child be cut in half physicallyC most people are hoping that (essica will not be sliced and diced emotionally.) $he ne-t)step ending tells readers what happened after the time span emphasized in the article. &ere is the end of a story about a woman who did abortions in Fhina but escaped having one herself. 8s for Fhi 8n and her family, they live in the southwestern 7nited States. 6ow that -ahwae is in kindergarten, Fhi 8n is studying for her nursing credentials. She hopes one day to work in a maternity ward, helping to deliver babies, not destroy them. $he nail)it)shut :uotation has one of the persons :uoted strongly elucidating the story,s central theme. )8t his funeral, they were saying what a tragedy it wasDthat !ary was a Fhristian and had even been a missionary. " didn,t know anything about that part of his life. " knew he was a good officer, a good person. But " told !od right then that people " ride with aren,t going to hear Ofor the first timeP at my funeral that " was a Fhristian. " knew " had to do better at letting people know what " am. Because like " said, without !od " couldn,t make it.) *e have already discussed circular structure in storiesC circular endings that bring back for a final look a central character of the article can increase reader identification. 8 full set of logging e:uipment for a site operation is called a side. "t includes a yarder ;a diesel/powered dragline and tower<, a shovel, and a cat. "n 1AKK, (im !old owned three complete logging sides, employed 1I men, and had a net worth of J>BB,BBB. "t,s all gone. . . . )*hen you,ve lost everything, threats don,t matter,) he says. )*e,ve got no fight left.) "n all these types, look to make a Fhristocentric point if you can do so without preaching at readers or seeming smarmy. 8n article about illegal Fhinese immigrants in jail ended powerfully. One detainee,s wife wrote to him and warned him not to return, unless his new !od was a powerful one. )8s to your pursuit of Fhristianity, as mentioned in your letter, " will leave it up to you to decide whether you want to believe it or not,) she wrote. )"t is very dangerous to come home now. $he village officials are still working on your case, which is why " am still in hiding. 9ou know very well the conse:uences. "f deported, your fate wouldn,t be better than the one who took his life. " can only hope you can be saved by the (esus that you mentioned in your letter. " hope you can count on the power of (esus to avert the unthinkable.) 6ow as in the past, only that power can yank humanity out of sin and individual men and women from the clutches of those still totally captive to it. HEADLINES $he job of traditional newspaper headlines, like leads, is to tell the essence of the story. -agazine headlines, however, are designed to draw the reader into the story. Since magazine headlines can more readily evoke and provoke than their newspaper counterparts, there is room for occasional wit. Some of my favorite headlines, of the many e'cellent ones written by World managing editor 6ickolas .icher, are )6o 8dvance, 6o #etreat,) to discuss 6ewt !ingrich,s decision to turn down a book advance but stick with his writing plansC )4F on the 4ecos,) concerning a review of a new, ideologically up/to/date @isney movie, 3all 3aleC )!od Save the -onarch,) over a story concerning butterfliesC )cybersharkQaol.com,) for a story about computer pornography, pedophiles, and childrenC )4olitical Science,) for an article about how the federal government,s subsidies for scientific projects do better at propping up particular interests than promoting breakthroughsC and )%oundation of ies,) concerning the %oundation for 6ew .ra 4hilanthropy,s pyramid scheme. $here are some technical details to be mastered, but the bottom line on these top lines should be: &ave fun.

Barney Kilgore was tired of today. He was sick of yesterday. And in 1941, he had the power to do something about it. !t doesn"t ha#e to ha#e happened today to be news,$ he declared. !f a date is essential, use the e%act date.$ &rom now on, he decreed, The Wall Street Journal would no longer use the words today$ and yesterday$ in the leads of stories. 'ith that single act, Kilgore, the new managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, pa#ed the way for a re#olutionary treatment of news. (ournalistic story forms, like many creati#e ideas, are often linked with the places where they originated or where they reached their )enith. *hat"s why the in#erted pyramid, populari)ed by the newspaper wire ser#ices started before the +.,. -i#il 'ar, is often referred to as an A. story$ or a wire ser#ice approach.$ !n the same way, The Wall Street Journal is home to a form best known as the nut graf$ story, although it is also identified as the news feature$ and the analytical feature.$ *his genre"s hallmarks include anecdotal leads that hook the reader, followed by alternating sections that amplify the story"s thesis and pro#ide balance with e#idence that presents a counterthesis. But its chief hallmark is the use of a conte%t section, the nut graf$ in newsroom lingo. /ow newspapers and maga)ines around the world publish stories following the form that emphasi)es e%planation o#er information and understanding o#er knowledge. 0nline news sites also rely on this form. *he nut graf tells the reader what the writer is up to1 it deli#ers a promise of the story"s content and message. !t"s called the nut graf because, like a nut, it contains the kernel,$ or essential theme, of the story. At The Philadelphia Inquirer, reporters and editors called it the 2ou may ha#e wondered why we in#ited you to this party3$ section. *he nut graf has se#eral purposes4

!t 5ustifies the story by telling readers why they should care.

!t pro#ides a transition from the lead and e%plains the lead and its connection to the rest of the story.

!t often tells readers why the story is timely.

!t often includes supporting material that helps readers see why the story is important. Ken 'ells, a writer and editor at The Wall Street Journal, described the nut graf as a paragraph that says what this whole story is about and why you should read it. !t"s a flag to the reader, high up in the story4 2ou can decide to proceed or not, but if you read no farther, you know what that story"s about.$ As the name implies, most nut grafs are a single paragraph long. !n the following e%ample, (ulia 6alone, a national correspondent for -o% /ewspapers" 'ashington Bureau, begins her story about pork barrel politics with a specific case that illustrates how politicians use ta% dollars for pet pro5ects that ha#e dubious #alue.

Blacksburg, Va. High on a mountain overlook, construction crews blast through solid rock on a 20-hours-a-day rush schedule to build the first two miles of an e !ressway that, for the ne t few years, will lead only to a turn-around. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

6alone then immediately pro#ides the conte%t for this scene and sol#es the pu))le of a two7mile7long e%pressway.

But for !romoters in this "!!alachian university town, that#s of little concern. $ubbed the %&mart 'oad( and designed to double as a hightechnology research site, this federal-state !ro)ect shows how a little %!ork( tucked into a federal trans!ortation bill can buy a whole hog for a community.

'isely, 6alone doesn"t make her intrigued readers wait any longer to find out what the story is about and why they should bother reading it. *he nut graf has done its 5ob4 gi#en readers enough information early on to see where the story is heading so they can decide whether they want to keep reading.

8ookie reporters can use the nut graf form to good effect, too. (eremy ,chwart), a reporting student at *he .oynter !nstitute, used two short #ignettes to begin his story about the problem elderly residents in a ,t. .etersburg neighborhood were ha#ing with ,uper ,oakers, o#ersi)ed water guns wielded by local kids. !n his lead, ,chwart) described how A#ita Berry, 9:, watched as the occupants of a car let loose with thick streams of water, soaking anyone unlucky enough to be in range,$ and Annie ;ee, <:, saw a group of pre7teens open fire with massi#e water guns filled with bleach, strong enough to turn her grass white.$ *hen it was time to step back from the specific cases and clue the reader in on the whole story4

Berry and *ee are victims of a new urban wea!on in &outh &t. +etersburg, &u!er &oaker water guns high-!owered, bubble-sha!ed, neon water guns that can e tend to three feet and hold u! to two gallons of water. -hey tell stories of guns filled with bleach, hot !e!!er and even garlic and say that neighborhood youths have taken the game too far. -his summer has seen an e !losion of &u!er &oaker use on the &outh &ide, say residents, local retailers and !olice.

&irst, ,chwart) identifies the women in the lead as representati#es of a larger group4 neighborhood residents #ictimi)ed by ,uper ,oaker water guns. *hen, he anticipates the readers" =uestion by immediately describing the weapons, using details that paint a #i#id picture, and pro#iding attribution so readers can assess the credibility of the assertion. /ut grafs often use summary language to bring together disparate e#ents to re#eal trends or long7running situations. *hey tell stories of$ specific e%amples > guns filled with bleach, pepper and e#en garlic$ > to con#ey a fad gone out of control.

*he nut graf can be longer than one paragraph but in a news story !"d argue that they shouldn"t be longer than two or three paragraphs. ;onger than that, and the story can bog down.

'hat the writer needs to do instead is anticipate the reader"s reaction, e#ery step of the way. *hat"s where the nut graf comes in, stepping back from the indi#idual case or scene or person to show where it fits into a larger picture. As (ack Hart, editor and writing coach at The Oregonian, described so well, the nut graf is a core statement that answers the basic =uestion lurking in the mind of e#ery reader4 ?'hy should ! bother with this story3"$ Reporting a Trend: Deconstructing a Nut Graf Story *he nut graf form is ideal for stories that report trends. !n the 199@s when ! co#ered family issues in 'ashington for Knight 8idder /ewspapers, ! relied on it for a story about the alarming increase of preteen dieters. !n this story, the two7paragraph anecdotal lead is designed to draw the reader"s interest4 $Hey, ! thought it was a story about a woman dieting, but actually, it"s about a kid who lost an alarming amount of weight. 'hat"s going on here3$ !t"s followed immediately by three paragraphs > the nut graf A that step back and describe the trend illustrated by the lead. After the lead and the nut graf, the story consists of alternating sections, all designed to samplify the story"s focus. Section 1: Quotes from experts support the story s thesis and demonstrates that this isn t merely the reporter s opinion! "ut one "ac#ed up "y authoritati$e sources% Section &: The story no' pro$ides "alance "y introducing a section that contrasts the pro"lem of dieting children 'ith the $ery real pro"lem of o"esity among (merica s youth% Section ): This chun# returns to the main theme of the story% It "uttresses the thesis "y citing medical e$idence and experts% The last sentence pro$ides a transition to the next section% Section *: The follo'ing section amplifies the nut graf% With statistics dra'n from a medical study! it tells the reader a"out 'idespread dieting among young people%

Section +: The next section sho's another face "ehind the num"ers% ,ut graf stories should ne$er rely on one example%

Section -: In the follo'ing t'o sections! the story alternates "et'een the close.up and the 'ide shot% Specific examples are al'ays related to the larger context% Section /: The story comes full circle! returning to Sarah! the child in the lead% It a$oids a common fla': introducing a character in the lead 'ho is ne$er seen or heard from again% Section 0: ,o' that the pro"lem has "een fully explored! the story concludes 'ith a section designed to ans'er the question on the reader s mind: 1What can "e done23 6any reporters, both students and professionals, ha#e a hard time writing a nut graf. *he nut graf re=uires the writer to summari)e the story in a way that may seem like editoriali)ing. !t"s not. *he critical thinking and analysis that the form demands must be supported by rigorous reporting. *he nut graf makes a case, but it must be supported by e#idence. *he story about pre7teen dieting is based on numerous inter#iews with children, parents, doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists, and other health professionals and on e%tensi#e research of medical literature. 6aga)ine editors like B#elynne Kramer, formerly of The 4oston 5lo"e 6aga7ine describe the paragraph as opening the aperture.$ As members of a #ideo generation, you may find it helpful to think of this form"s lead as a close7up. *he nut graf is a wide7angle shot. *heme has been defined as meaning in a word.$ !n a nut graf story, it"s the meaning in a paragraph. 'illiam B. Blundell, a former Wall Street Journal writer who coaches writers, and whose stories illustrated the approach in its finest form, calls the main theme statement the single most important bit of writing ! do on any story.$ The Wall Street Journal s approach redefined news, transforming it from e#ents or actions that happened today or the day before to trends or situations that had been de#eloping o#er time but that had not been noticed by a news media focused on the now. 6ost important, The Wall Street Journal s reporters were following a new rule4 'rite a story that keeps readers reading rather than pro#ides a built7in e%cuse to stop, a complaint made by the in#erted pyramid"s critics. At the same time, the nut graf re=uired in e#ery story ser#ed the function of the in#erted pyramid"s summary lead4 pro#iding readers with the gist of the story up high. !f they chose to stop, they at least knew the broad outlines of the story. !f they chose to continue, howe#er, they knew they would be rewarded with e#en greater understanding and en5oyment.

A word of caution about nut grafs from (ames B. ,tewart, a former Wall Street Journal front page editor and successful nonfiction writer4 Con"t let nut grafs tell the reader so much about the story that they ha#e no incenti#e to keep reading. !n his book, &ollow the ,tory4 How to 'rite ,uccessful /onfiction,$ ,tewart argues for nut grafs that accomplish the goals of the de#ice, including selling$ the story to the reader by con#eying its timeliness and importance while preser#ing e#ery bit of the suspense and curiosity so carefully culti#ated in the lead.$ ,tewart"s guidelines to enhance rather than crush the story you want to tell include4

/e#er gi#e away the ending of the story.

Anticipate the =uestions that readers might be asking early in a story, and address them.

Di#e readers a concrete reason or reasons to mo#e on.

Here"s a =uick way to produce a nut graf for your ne%t story4 6ake up your mind what the story is about and why people should read it > and then type that conclusion in one or two sentences. B%perienced reporters say they find it helpful to constantly write and rewrite the nut graf through the course of reporting the story. Coing so tends to re#eal holes earlier in the process and helps you a#oid too many intriguing but tangential side trips. Although the nut graf approach is most often associated with trend stories, analytical pieces and news features, reporters also employ it to bring drama and conte%t to breaking news. An e%ample of this approach is this pri)e7winning deadline story by 6ark &rit) of *he Associated .ress.

."'/B"0B", 'wanda 1"+2 3obody lives here any more. 3ot the e !ectant mothers huddled outside the maternity clinic, not the families s4uee5ed into the church, not the man who lies rotting in a schoolroom beneath a chalkboard ma! of "frica. 6verybody here is dead. .arubamba is a vision from hell, a flesh-and-bone )unkyard of human wreckage, an obscene slaughterhouse that has fallen silent save for the roaring bu55 of flies the si5e of honeybees. 7ith silent shrieks of agony locked on decaying faces, hundreds of bodies line the streets and fill the tidy brick buildings of this village, most of them in the s!rawling 'oman 8atholic com!le of classrooms and clinics at .arubamba#s stilled heart.

.arubamba is )ust one breathtakingly awful e am!le of the mayhem that has made little 'wanda the world#s most ghastly killing ground. .arubamba, 90 miles northeast of .igali, the ca!ital, died "!ril ::, si days after 'wanda +resident ;uvenal Habyarimana, a member of the Hutu tribe, was killed in a !lane crash whose cause is still undetermined. -he !aranoia and sus!icion surrounding the crash blew the lid off decades of com!le ethnic, social and !olitical hatreds. <t ignited a murderous s!ree by e tremists from the ma)ority Hutus against rival -utsis and those Hutus who had o!!osed the government. -his awesome wave of remorseless mayhem has claimed :00,000 to 200,000 lives, say /.3. and other relief grou!s. 0any were cut down while cowering in !laces traditionally thought safe havens, churches, schools, relief agencies. 1-he "ssociated +ress, 0ay :2, :==>2

2ou can read the entire story, included in the package of stories that won &rit) the 199E .ulit)er .ri)e for international reporting and the (esse ;a#enthol Award for deadline reporting from the American ,ociety of /ewspaper Bditors at4 http4FFwww.pulit)er.orgFyearF199EFinternational7 reportingFworksFA.!:.html

!n those first four paragraphs, &rit) sets a horrific scene, bringing the reader face7to7face with the massacred #ictims in an African #illage. *he #i#id details answer the =uestions4 'here3$ and 'hat3$ and 'ho3$ in a powerful fashion that draws the reader into the story. &rit)"s lead lea#es unaddressed the How3$ and 'hy3$ Had he continued to describe the massacre, there"s a good chance the reader would become frustrated. *hat"s where the nut graf comes in. Here, &rit) backs up to pro#ide conte%t for the scene in the lead, like a filmmaker drawing back from a close7up to a wide7angle shot. *his is the nut section,$ that pro#ides the background by addressing How3$ and 'hy3$ the scene described in the lead came to be. 'ithout conte%t, the reader who is hooked by an arresting lead may feel left dangling. *he image of the nut works whether we think of it as plant life or an industrial de#ice. -onsider what happens, for e%ample, if you lea#e a lug nut off a car wheel1 you run the risk of the car

careening off the road. !n the same way, a story that intrigues without pro#iding conte%t can =uickly lea#e a reader feeling derailed. 'hen the nut graf became popular in the 19<@s, many reporters and editors belie#ed that a nut graf had to include a phrase that indicates the source of the conclusion > officials say$ or neighbors and friends of the #ictim agreed.$ Although the paragraph pro#ided conte%t and meaning for a story, it needed to rely on some authority other than the reporter to do so. 0therwise, they argued, the story read more like an editorial. Although that mindset still lingers in some newsrooms, by the 199@s e#en *he Associated .ress permitted its reporters to draw conclusions when it was based on their reporting and e%pertise. *hus, 6ark &rit) deli#ers his interpretation of the 8wandan massacre in the nut graf without attribution, but for one e%ception > the casualty estimates that he, appropriately, attributes to relief workers. Because the nut graf is designed to pro#ide conte%t for the story, and then should always be followed by the e#idence supporting the conclusion, attribution is often unnecessary.