Now THAT’s a Lede

The word lede is essentially journalism jargon for the introductory sentence or paragraph designed either to (a) provide all the pertinent information of a particular story or (b) simply entice the reader to read the entire article. For a textbook example of the latter, check this out, from an Atlantic story by Ed Yong:

The American novelist S. E. Hinton once said, “If you have two friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky. If you have one good friend, you’re more than lucky.” By that logic, boxer crabs are the luckiest creatures alive because they can turn one good friend into two by tearing it in half.

Yong did the impossible. He made you want to read an article about crabs.

And that’s really the trick, isn’t it? I mean, I knew that most people didn’t care about tattoos when I once opened a story about them with “On Thursday, September 19, 1991, high in the Austrian Alps, two German hikers discovered the mummified remains of a man lying face-down in a pool of glacial meltwater.” Sure, it’s a bit dramatic, but I think it worked—in part because, like Yong’s bit about tearing a friend in two, it’s so completely unexpected.

Of course, there’s a downside: the better your opening is, the harder it is for the story itself to live up to its promise. Kind of like relationships, isn’t it? A good first date is a really well-written lede; the marriage that follows is just another story about crustaceans.



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