News next: a journalism teacher's diary

August 5, 2011

Leading with your best punch

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 3:43 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Daily News cop house reporter Bob Kappstatter posted this little anthology of classic tabloid leads on Facebook, saying they were “left many years ago by overnight reporter Tom Raftery, a true Daily News legend.”

Read ’em and weep. Read ’em and chuckle. Read ’em and learn.

A man caught his death of bullets in the chill Washington Heights night air. Detectives early today have been pulling blanks. They are seeking a motive and witnesses, police said.

An order of protection didn’t cut it in Queens last night. A kitchen knife did.

George Washington Jones turned 21 yesterday, but the only card he got was a toe tag in the morgue.

Would you read on? Of course you would. What makes these tabloid leads is their cheekiness. The Times would never be so frivolous about murder. But what makes them great leads is that they catch your attention and hold it. You can’t wait to read more, because the promise they make is “I’m going to tell you a hell of a story. Wait ’til you hear the rest of it.”

That’s what a good lead does, no matter the style and no matter the subject. Think about that the next time you write one of your own.

An addendum: A week or so after his Facebook posting, Kappstatter produced what he called an homage to Raftery with this lead on a story about an accident at a city Sanitation garage:

A Sanitation Department mechanic dangled between the third floor and eternity Wednesday after he crashed a 16-ton salt spreader through the wall of a Queens garage

Here’s the way The Times began its story on the same event:

A 15-ton salt-spreading truck burst through the wall of a sprawling Sanitation Department repair depot in Queens on Wednesday morning and hung precariously in the air — 30 feet above the ground — until rescuers could free its driver, the authorities said.

Which one provides more information? Are you going to keep reading?

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