Don’t get caught spinning these cliché leads that babble unoriginality

By Gregg McLachlan

We’ve all seen those leads – the ones where we say to ourselves: “Hey, now that’s original!” or “Haven’t I read that somewhere else before?”  Reporters who write cliché leads haven’t invested the time to answer key questions:
  • 1) What’s my story about?
  • 2) What makes this newsworthy for my readers?
  • 3) How can I draw my readers into this story and keep them reading?
  • 4) What’s the most interesting theme of this story?
The list goes on. The more key questions you ask of yourself and your story, the better prepared you’ll be to become original with your lead.

If you write one of these leads, it’s time to ask yourself some questions:

1. It poured rain but spirits weren’t dampened
When was the last time you saw an event where it rained and everybody was happy? Unless you’ve talked to everyone, such a lead is inaccurate. If weather really is the theme, give readers a human interest angle that really shows how people coped. And give physical examples. Writing about ‘spirits’ isn’t very reader-friendly, unless you’re covering a wine festival.

2. (Fill in the blank) died yesterday.
The ultimate ‘thud’ obituary lead. Remember that many families and friends clip obituary stories as keepsakes. Most obituaries are tributes. The best obituaries bring people to life. After all, life comes before death. Enterprising reporters look beyond death to spin a story of life.

3. (Fill in the blank) is the place to be this weekend
Yeah, like we haven’t seen this one before in an advertisement. Stop writing like the promotional representative from the local tourism bureau. Isn’t it interesting that reporters who write these kinds of leads rarely ever attend the events themselves. If the reporter who wrote the lead doesn’t plan on attending “the place to be” then how can he/she expect to inspire readers to?

4. (Fill in the blank) may have been, but (fill in the blank).
It’s the all-time favourite all-purpose lead. It has 101 uses. Just pick an event, and fill in the blanks. It’s easy because rather than pick one theme to emphasize, you can play two themes off each other. Unfortunately for readers, they’ve seen this ‘formula’ lead 101 times in everything from sports to news. Do your readers a favour, be more original.  

5. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare
Here’s another one size fits all lead that’s been overused to death (no pun intended). Don’t generalize tragic events with leads that are generic. As a reporter, it’s your job to bring human perspective to tragedy – not recycle a cliché that’s been used a million times before (and unfortunately, is still being used).

6. It’s a day (fill in the blank) will never forget
We all have days we will never forget. So what else is new? Find out. If it’s such a memorable day, surely there’s a hook for a better lead.

7. The community is in shock
Avoid ‘telling’ the obvious. Of course a community is in shock after tragedy. Want to capture shock for your readers? Gather compelling stories of  shock. That will ‘show’ shock to your readers.

8. (Fill in the blank) is not your typical kid
Just another ‘typical’ lead that goes nowhere. Rather than telling your readers that someone is different, try showing instead.

9. ’Tis the season. . .
It’s Ho Ho Horrible. Try capturing the spirit of the season. . . and oh yeah. . . don’t use The spirit of the season either.

10. It was a rockin’ good time
Not everyone likes to rock. If an event was such a good time, you should have lots of angles to spin a story that rocks your readers’ interest.