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This post features a variety of good lead examples and some markers of poor leads, by Hannah Bloch (from NPR Training).
Read some examples of excellent leads, gathered by Chip Scanlan. You may have to scroll down a bit. (from the Poynter Institute)
Having trouble coming up with a strong lead? Journalism professor Steve Buttry says that as you gather information for a story, keep asking yourself why an audience would want to read it. For this and other good tips, see The Buttry Diary.
What's a nut graph look like in a news story? Scanlan has a helpful discussion with examples. You may have to scroll down a bit. (from the Poynter Institute)
In this article, Jacqui Banaszynski collects the thoughts about nut graphs from 20 top journalists (from the Nieman Foundation).
In a piece for The Wall Street Journal, Pulitzer-Prize winning writer John McPhee says that journalists have to think about what the style of their leads signals about a story's meaning—that cleverness can get in the way of communicating well about your story:
What is a lead? For one thing, it is the hardest part of a story to write. Here is an egregiously bad one from an article on chronic sleeplessness: "Insomnia is the triumph of mind over mattress." Why is that bad? It's not bad at all if you want to be a slapstick comedian. But if you are serious about the subject, you are indicating at the outset that you don't have confidence in your material, so you are trying to make up for it by waxing cute.
Journalist Rick Bragg wrote the lead below after Timothy McVeigh received a guilty verdict for the Oklahoma City bombing. Bragg said that he was nervous about this story. "This was a man who had wrecked a city, wrecked lives," Bragg said. "My story had to carry that import. It would have failed, otherwise. But I also did not want to overwrite it, to lend drama to a story already so dramatic. It would have been like putting a scary mask on a face already horribly disfigured." (You can read more about this and other leads Bragg has written here):
OKLAHOMA CITY--After the explosion, people learned to write left-handed, to tie just one shoe. They learned to endure the pieces of metal and glass embedded in their flesh, to smile with faces that made them want to cry, to cry with glass eyes. They learned, in homes where children had played, to stand the quiet. They learned to sleep with pills, to sleep alone. Today, with the conviction of Timothy J. McVeigh in a Denver Fedral court, with cheers and sobs of relief at the lot where a building once stood in downtown Oklahoma City, the survivors and families of the victims of the most deadly attack of domestic terrorism in United States history learned what they had suspected all along: That justice in a faraway courtroom is not satisfaction. That healing might come only at Mr. McVeigh's grave.