Writing the Hard News Lead

Writing the lead is often the hardest part of writing an article. Articles can be divided into two main types, hard news and soft news.

Each has different types of leads, or beginnings.

Hard News Leads

These articles will cover breaking news and other significant news stories. You will use this type of article lead mostly in newspaper articles.

Magazines are not published frequently enough to be timely, a tenet of hard news.

journalism journalist hard news

Hard news leads start with the most important information at the beginning. Remember, you need to answer:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

One reason for this is that people do not take the time to read the whole article. We live in a generation of sound-bites, and people expect their news to be quick and short.

Using the inverted pyramid style means that if they only read the first paragraph or two, they will know the most important points of the story.

Another reason for this format is that it allows editors to cut stories to fit the space they have available to print them.

If the important information is at the bottom, an editor cannot cut the article without losing its value.

writing for newspaper

Instead, by being top heavy, the last paragraph or two can be cut without a problem.

The most common hard news lead is the summary lead. It is exactly what it says - a summary of the key points in the story. It answers all six of the questions above in one or two sentences.

To put together the summary lead, first answer the six questions:

Let's say that there was a jailhouse riot the day before you write this article.
  • Who: Inmates
  • What: Rioted
  • When: Around 9p.m. last night
  • Where: County jail
  • Why: Bad food
  • How: Overpowering guards and trashing the kitchen.

Now, you decide the order in which to share this information in the lead. Do you start with who? Or when? Keep in mind, most important information first.

Around 9p.m. last night, inmates at the county jail overpowered guards and trashed the kitchen in protest against the food quality at the jail.

County jail inmates rioted to protest the food quality by overpowering guards and trashing the jail kitchen around 9p.m. last night.

Both of these sentences provide the same information. However, they start with the emphasis on different information. This is a basic hard news lead.

Now, practice writing your own leads. Get comfortable with this format and it will serve you well.

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