Badly Written News Leads

Aaahhh yes… This was too good to pass up. I’m going to pass along a Talk to the Newsroom snippet from New York Times Executive Editor, Bill Keller’s response to a reader’s complaint about badly written news leads. Read. And then re-read. And then print it, pin it up next to your desk and read it again every day. Am I speaking to myself? Perhaps.


Bill KellerQ. The colorful lead is the bane (or at least one of the banes) of my time spent with The Times. So often, I have tried quickly to get the gist of a story (this happens in the Sports section more often than in the news sections) only to find that I must read something like ‘it was a dark and dreary night’ before finding the point, or the score, or even a notion of what the article is about.

Whatever happened to the inviolate rule that a lead was 35 words or fewer, telling us where, why, what or who? (Peter C. Boulay, Bronx, N.Y.)

A. As the sun blazed above the snow-lacquered peaks of the Hindu Kush, the weary editor flipped down his clip-on sunglasses and booted up his laptop.

It had been a long week, a soul-sapping, disorienting and yet strangely satisfying week.

Past the simple campsite where he awaited his digital connection to the modern world flowed all the human mystery of the East: the women shrouded in burqas of azure, or possibly cerulean, he was not too good on blues; the camel-borne warlords draped with belts of bullets; the shoeless boys in filthy ‘I Heart New York’ T-shirts; and all the rest, all separated by semicolons and swaddled in colorful clichés.

The computer flickered to life. The keys clicked. (Bill Keller, New York Times Executive Editor, Bill Keller)

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