Public Affairs Qualification Course Leads & Bridges. Home Pyramid News Peg Summary Lead Lead Emphasis Bridge WAITS Date week

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1 Most of us understand that first impressions are important. Your lead is the first impression your reader gets of your writing skills and of the information about the topic you wrote about. If done well, the reader will stick around and read the rest of your story. If not, they will move on to someone else's story. To meet the communication goals of your commander, you will need to be able to write well, so those readers will stick around to get the information and messages your commander wants you to communicate. Photo courtesy of writingforward.com The Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland 1

2 Inverted pyramid The inverted pyramid is a basic building block of journalistic style. This format puts the most important information at the top of the story and the remaining information follows in descending order of importance. Readers should know what the story is about in the first sentence with subsequent sentences providing supporting details. story because another reporter filed a breaking story about a major fire downtown that will need five inches of space. The editor will snip from the bottom, which, if written in correct inverted pyramid structure, won't affect the reader's understanding. The inverted pyramid also allows the layout and design staff to cut news stories from the bottom to fit into the news hole, without cutting important information. Photo courtesy of ndvidshub.net The most common anecdote about the inverted pyramid is that it evolved during the Civil War, when reporters sometimes saw their story cut off in midtransmission as enemy forces cut telegraph lines. The goal became to get the important information out up front, then fill in as much detail as time (and the enemy s actions) might allow. By the turn of the century, the inverted pyramid was in common use among news organizations across the country. An example of this would be that you ve written an article that is 15 inches long if stacked in a newspaper column (what s known as column width). Your editor has only 10 inches of space left for your Photo courtesy of nthehumanityexchange.org 2 The Center of Excellence for Visual Information and Public Affairs

3 News Peg The news peg serves as the story s file name for electronic storage, or slug. A news peg is an inhouse title that allows your editor to quickly identify or determine the subject of a story. News pegs at DINFOS will be one word, all caps and no more than eight letters. They will be doublespaced above the lead. Summary News Leads The lead is the essence of what you know about the event, written crisply and tightly, and if done well, will draw the reader into the story. Structure The summary news lead should be one paragraph, consisting of one sentence, thirty words or fewer. Thirty words equal about one column inch of copy, which is short enough for the writer to include the essential facts (who, what, when, where) as well as keep the reader s interest. Brevity is important, but never sacrifice it for clarity. Shorter leads can be hard-hitting but be certain not to leave out critical information (Harrower, p. 40). Examples: a) Who was involved? b) What happened? c) When did it happen? d) Where did it happen? e) How and Why tend to be more difficult to discern about an event and aren t absolutely essential for the lead. These are the same questions you will typically be asked by reporters covering the story. Now that you understand the elements of the summary lead, let s move on to your lead emphasis. Write to express, not to impress. This isn t the place to show off your vocabulary; tight writing is important. There usually are a lot of facts that need to be squeezed into those 30 words. The New York Times and Washington Post sometimes have multiple sentence leads of up to words. These are written for an educated audience. Complex sentence structures allow them more leeway. While it s true that more and more newspapers, including military newspapers, write advanced leads today, it s also true that most readers want the facts first and foremost. Ws and H Journalists learn to answer Who, What, Where, When, Why and How in Journalism 101 in college (Harrower, p. 41). A summary lead should answer all the important questions, but must answer at least the Who, What, When and Where. The Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland 3

4 Lead Emphasis The lead emphasis is the story's most important W or H (Harrower, p. 40). Lead emphasis means just that, it is the first four to five words of your lead. Select the most important fact and use it to begin the sentence. What or who are the most common lead emphases. While the reporter gets to decide which is most important, below are a couple of guidelines. If the event affects one person, it s usually a Who (for example, a personal award). a personal award. If the event affects more than one, it s usually a What (for example, a concert). When or Where must be in your lead, but they are seldom the lead emphasis. Why or How are used only when extremely important or unusual and many times are answered in the followup stories or in the bridge. Who Lead Emphasis This answers the reader s questions of who did what or to whom it was done. The who could be an individual, a group of people or an organization. There are two kinds: the Prominent Who, or immediate identification leads, and Impersonal Who, or delayed-identification. The prominent Who is an individual who is widely recognized, e.g. has prominence. The person is identified by name in the lead. high school he graduated from or it could be by job title and organization. What Lead Emphasis This tells the reader what happened, then follows with the other W's. It will also tell what happened or is about to happen. It could be a planned event or unplanned event. A planned event could be a concert; and an unplanned event could be a plane crashing into an apartment complex. When Lead Emphasis On rare occasions the time or date of an event may be the most important piece of information. It may be in specific or in general terms in the lead, but should be expressed specifically soon after the lead. Example: April 15 is tax day. Words we DO NOT USE: today, yesterday, tomorrow, next or last. Use the day of the week, because yesterday and tomorrow, by the time the story gets published, may no longer be yesterday or tomorrow. As an example, say a reporter covers a story Saturday, writes it Monday, and his editor decides to publish the article Friday. When is yesterday? The reporter can t predict when the story will run. Impersonal Who Lead This is used when the individual has little name recognition with readers, but their job, unit, or local ties make them interesting or significant. Full identification will come later in the story, usually in the bridge. For example, an impersonal who lead could read, A Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter pilot was presented the Distinguished Flying cross at a ceremony Friday, Jan. 21 at the base parade field here." The subject is identified by some description the reader can relate to. This could be a local tie, like identifying the individual by the year and name of the 4 The Center of Excellence for Visual Information and Public Affairs

5 Lead Emphasis (continued) Last and next are redundant. The tense of the verb tells the reader if the story will or has occurred. For example, the air show will occur Friday or occurred Friday. Saying the air show will occur next Friday or occurred last Friday is both redundant and unclear. Using a more specific when, such as Friday or Jan. 21, depends on its importance. For example, specific times are important because they provide important time references (the time of the accident, when emergency vehicles arrived, how long traffic will be tied up, etc.). When formatting time, the time element is written before the day: 3 p.m. Oct. 21 (AP, p. 268). Another example of a When lead emphasis: At 7 p.m. Saturday the post s annual Military Brat Teen Talent Contest is scheduled at the youth activities center here. Where Lead Emphasis This lead emphasis gives the location of a news event. A Where lead is rarely the lead emphasis, but it must be clear, when used (Harrower, p. 40). It may be expressed as general as here or as specific as 7702 Main St., depending on the significance. If expressed generally in the lead, it must be specific later in the story. Understanding how to use the Where element correctly is a key concept in news lead writing. An example of a Where lead would be: The post parade grounds is where a free country music concert featuring Vince Gill will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday for post employees and their families. The word is frequently redundant, particularly in the lead of a datelined story. Use only if there is some specific need to stress that the event being reported took place in the community. If the location must be stressed in the body of the story, repeat the name of the datelined community, both for the reader s convenience and to avoid problems if the story is topped with a different dateline. Why Lead Emphasis The Why lead emphasis concerns the cause of an event. It frequently is unavailable or implied. Why tends to come into play with bad news issues like accidents, but often just can t be answered, or at least not until the investigation is complete. How many times have we heard We just don t know why John Smith shot six of his co-workers It often fixes blame and usually begins with Because." An example: Because gas masks fail to form a tight fit over beards, the Navy today announced that all sailors will no longer be allowed facial hair. How Lead Emphasis A How lead explains the circumstances or manner in which something happened or was accomplished. An example: Using the Heimlich maneuver, a post military policeman saved a choking student here Wednesday at the Defense Information School snack bar. In the example, you could ask the question, how did the policeman save the student? He used the Heimlich maneuver. This lead implies that the Where element is the post s parade grounds. What if the concert is taking place at the County Fairgrounds in the local community instead? In that case, you must specifically explain the Where to avoid confusion. Should you use here when referring to a story on post? The Stylebook for the Here states the following: The Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland 5

6 The Bridge Now that we've discussed the summary lead, let's discuss the next paragraph of the story. The second paragraph of a news story is called the bridge." It is one paragraph, consisting of one sentence, with 30 words or fewer. It expands on the lead and transitions from the lead to the body of the story. Uses WAITS to determine the content. The rest of the story is organized in descending order of importance, the inverted pyramid. The bridge contains at least one of the five elements of the acronym WAITS, likely two or more. WAITS W's or H not in the Lead If Why and How are available, put them in the bridge. Attribution It identifies sources of information, or opinions, especially if it is how or why information, which need attribution (Rich, p. 149). You will put attribution at the end of the sentence. What was said is more important than who said it. We will discuss attribution more when we get to Internal News. Editors are unforgiving when it comes to attribution. It is a credibility issue, and it allows the reader to assess the quality of the information. You will want to use said or says as attributive verbs. Writers don t know what sources think or feel (Harrower, p. 82). Be sure information and attribution are reported accurately. It s the reporter s responsibility to verify information and identification of units and people, but if it sounds questionable, double check. why is the middle initial important? Well, how many John Smiths are there? However, per the AP Stylebook, people are entitled to be known however they want to be known as long as their identities are clear. Ask! For our purposes and a good practice in the field, full identification includes all three pieces of information. Age can be used if the person is dead or if essential to the story. The hometown should be used if the person is dead or it's essential to the story. The person's job title should be provided if it's not used in the lead. The person's unit should be provided if not used in the lead. On second reference, we only use last names. Tie-Back A tie-back is used when updating information from a previous story, to remind the reader of the old facts. A tie-back gives readers a short recap of what happened. Since most military newspapers are published weekly, they seldom need to use tie-backs. Tie-backs will be used most often in external releases. Secondary Facts This allows the writer to use any other piece of information in the bridge that the writer deems to be important. Identification If the lead uses the impersonal who, then the person must be fully identified at the very beginning of the bridge. Identify the service if it's not the host service of the installation. When using rank, use what is in accordance with the AP Stylebook. When using names, use the full name. Include first names, middle initial and last name. You may ask, 6 The Center of Excellence for Visual Information and Public Affairs

7 Date week Now that we've discussed the lead and the bridge, let's take a look now at how you determine the "dateweek" so you may write it correctly in your lead. the date week are referred to by the month and date. Verb tense of the sentence tells the reader if the event has happened, or will happen. The newspaper date week is used to identify when elements in news. The date week includes the publication date and the six days immediately before and after the publication date. Days within the date week are referred to by the day. Days outside In PAQC our publish day will ALWAYS be Thursday. The Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland 7

8 Conclusion Mastering the lead and the bridge will give you a solid base for your writing skills. Being able to determine what is important and providing that information to your readers will be crucial to your success. It's simple, really, BLUF, bottom line up front. 8 The Center of Excellence for Visual Information and Public Affairs

9 References and Additional Resources PALD Journalism Writing Guide. Cappon, Renee J. (2000) The Associated Press Guide to News Writing: The Resource for Professional Journalists 3rd ed., Thomson-Arco. Associated Press (2011) The AP Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (46th ed.). Harrower, Tim. (2007) Inside Reporting: A Practical Guide to the Craft of Journalism, McGraw-Hill. Strunk, William.; White, E. B. (2000) The Elements of Style (4th ed.), Allyn & Bacon. The Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland 9

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