A journalism jargon term for the beginning of an article. A lede will ideally lay out the basic foundation of the story while enticing the reader to finish the story.

The lede serves a dual and somewhat paradoxical purpose. By giving the basic facts, a busy reader can get the important details by just skimming the lede. In this way, one can read just the front page of a good newspaper and still keep on top of the day's important stories. However, well-written ledes should convince this busy person to keep on reading — to lead them on, in effect. (The word "lede" is in fact derived from "lead" but spelled differently to avoid confusion¹.)

E2 is a little different — no jump pages, no underwear ads (unless you count animefu). But the goal remains the same. Noders are busy, and writeups better have a damn good reason why people shouldn't just stop at the first paragraph.

An appetizer, not a smörgåsbord

Some people are famous due to athletic or acting skills. Others are famous due to luck. Robin Leach became famous for visiting famous people's houses.

Robin Leach (Billy)

What did that tell us? What do we know?
  1. There is a person out there named "Robin Leach," a person important enough for Billy to write a node about him.
  2. Robin Leach is famous.
  3. Robin Leach visits other people's houses, which also makes him famous. This also makes him odd.

Fact No. 1 we got from the node title (which, in keeping with the newspaper analogy, is most like the headline.) Fact No. 2 gives us crucial information. Fact No. 3 gives us crucial information as well, plus, it makes us want to learn more.

And Billy's lede did its job.

A good lede will begin to answer the following questions:
  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • How? and/or Why?

Keep in mind that the lede does not have to answer each of these questions fully. That's the job of the article/node. Also, keep in mind that How? and Why? are special. Answering those complicated questions are far out of the scope of the lede, but they should nevertheless be hinted at. How? and Why? are the interesting part of an article, and if the lede doesn't mention them, the reader may think that the article will not do so either.

Let's put these questions against the node Robin Leach:
  • Who?: Robin Leach.
  • What?: An odd famous person.
  • Where?: In other famous peoples' homes.
  • When?: Sometime in the past ...
  • How? and/or Why?: Leach used a non-traditional method to become famous, and the reader is curious to find out more.

The only question that this lede leaves open is When?, but Billy answers that in the start of the second paragraph. That's perfectly fine. A lede is an appetizer, not a smörgåsbord.

Let's take a look at some more, shall we?


Cadaver Synod (Gamaliel)

The Cadaver Synod, no doubt the most bizarre episode amidst a papal history studded with strange events, was a product of political hardball, not a question of arcane rules of papal succession. That, and Pope Stephen VI must have been a nutjob.

  • Who?: Pope Stephen VI. He's a nutjob.
  • What?: Some political hardball act called the "Cadaver Synod."
  • Where?: The Vatican, probably.
  • When?: Back when Popes did things like this.
  • How? and/or Why?: We're not sure ... but something strange happened.


flagpole sitting (Kiladogg)

Transcontinental foot races. Dance marathons. The Noun and Verb Rodeo. The Rocking Chair Derby. Lord knows why, but America in the 1920s had a thirst for endurance contests. You could do anything, really, as long as you did it for a long time, and a crowd would gather.

  • Who?: Someone with way too much free time.
  • What?: Flagpole sitting (from the node title), probably for a very long time.
  • Where?: USA.
  • When?: 1920s.
  • How? and/or Why?: Because that's what people liked to watch back then. Wow, Americans were sure freaky!


free lunch (witchiepoo)

There is no way to look cool or dignified while picking up a free lunch card. The teachers hand out the bright blue cards to the poor kids right in front of the whole class. They mark us. It is a sadistic ritual. The star bellied Sneetches watch and smirk with the kind of self-righteousness only allowed to the offspring of the well respected.

  • Who?: The writer.
  • What?: Free food, plus teasing.
  • Where?: School.
  • When?: When I was in school.
  • How? and/or Why?: In a very public and embarrassing session.


The Greatest Ever

(Associated Press)

Man walks on moon, this day, July 20, 1969.

Remember, the simplest are often the best. Don't get too cute. Journalism's beauty is in its utility.


Footnotes:
¹ — http://www.freep.com/jobspage/high/jargon.htm on the origin of the word "lede" — "The start of a story. It is spelled this way to prevent confusion with lead, a metal that was used extensively in hot-type days, and a term that refers to the spacing of lines in a story."

SharQ points out that some newspapers — such as the Finnish tabloid VG — impose 20-word limits on ledes. This prompts writers to get to the point, which is always a good idea.

Additional info:

  • http://www.poynter.org/dj/081500.htm — more tips on writing ledes.
  • http://www.chipsquinn.org/coaching/2001/010514cliche.shtml — a good list of cliche ledes. DO NOT USE THEM.

    Merci to Gritchka, tooblasted, SharQ and all you Crimeds out there.
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