Learning Leads from Nursery Rhymes

By Larocque, Paula | The Quill, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview

Learning Leads from Nursery Rhymes


Larocque, Paula, The Quill


JOURNALISTS COULD LEARN a lot about lead-writing from nursery rhymes, which specialize in bright, natural beginnings. The tortured syntax of formula journalism - the habit, say, of beginning with a clause that delays the lead's true business - is not for nursery rhymes.

A lead's "true business" is usually revealed by a straightforward presentation of actor, action and acted upon. That means Jack and Jill went up the hill to get a pail of water. It means little Jack Horner sat in the corner eating a Christmas pie. It means little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and can't tell where to find them.

What is the "true business" of the following lead?

Probing an urban legend from their Staten Island childhood - that of Cropsey, a maniacal child killer and escapee from the nearby Willowbrook mental institution - documentary filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio expand the story to include the real disappearances of children, the hunt for (and trials of) a suspect, and the exposes of the horrific conditions of Willowbrook, which made big news in 1972 via the investigative reporting of a young Geraldo Rivera.

Must we sift through the wreckage of this sentence? It's enough to say that it begins with a rudderless verb and anchorless phrase, interrupts its own uncertain flow with bewildering allusions to a maniac and an insane asylum, and at last introduces the lead's subjects, filmmakers Zeman and Brancaccio. But wait! The sentence is hardly over. We now slosh through the flotsam and jetsam of missing children, a search for a suspect, the suspect's trials, expos?s of horrifie conditions and - gasp! - the investigative reporting of a "young Geraldo Rivera!"

Really?

The lead's true business? I'd guess it's something like:

Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio's latest documentary expands on an urban legend from the filmmakers' Staten Island childhood.

Here's another news lead that goes adrift:

Bowing to pressure from the Obama administration, the White House and BP on Wednesday agreed to create an independent $20 billion fund to pay claims arising from the worst oil spill in U. S history, suspend paying shareholder dividends for the rest of the year and compensate oil field workers for lost wages.

That "bowing to pressure" phrase demonstrates further hazards of "backing in" to the lead. Not only does it delay the subject (the White House and BP), but in this case that subject is wrong. The White House did not "bow to pressure" from the Obama administration; how would that work? Nor did the White House create a fund or act jointly with BP to suspend shareholder dividends and compensate oil field workers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Learning Leads from Nursery Rhymes
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.