Writing a Compelling, Informative News Lede

Snappy ledes tell who, what, where, when, why, and how

Celebrity being interviewed and photographed by paparazzi at event

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What is a lede? A lede is the first paragraph of any news story. Many would say that it’s also the most important part, as it introduces what is to come. A good lede must accomplish three specific things:

  • Give readers the main points of the story
  • Get readers interested in reading the story
  • Accomplish both of these in as few words as possible

Typically, editors want ledes to be no longer than 35 to 40 words. Why so short? Well, readers want their news delivered quickly, and a short lede does just that.

What Goes in a Lede?

For news stories, journalists use the inverted pyramid format, which means starting with the "five W’s and H:” who, what, where, when, why, and how.

  • Who: Who is the story about?
  • What: What happened in the story?
  • Where: Where did the event you’re writing about occur?
  • When: When did it occur?
  • Why: Why did this happen?
  • How: How did this happen?

Lede Examples

Now that you understand the basics of a lede, see them in action with these examples.

Lede Example 1

Let’s say you’re writing a story about a man who was injured when he fell off a ladder. Here are your "five W’s and H:"

  • Who: the man
  • What: He fell off a ladder while painting.
  • Where: at his house
  • When: yesterday
  • Why: The ladder was rickety.
  • How: The rickety ladder broke.

So your lede might go something like this:

"A man was injured yesterday after falling from a rickety ladder which collapsed as he was painting his home."

This sums up the main points of the story in just 19 words, which is all you need for a good lede.

Lede Example 2

Now you’re writing a story about a house fire in which three people suffered smoke inhalation. Here are your "five W’s and H:"

  • Who: three people
  • What: They suffered smoke inhalation in a house fire and were hospitalized.
  • Where: at their house
  • When: yesterday
  • Why: A man fell asleep while smoking in bed.
  • How: The cigarette ignited the man's mattress.

Here's how this lede might go:

"Three people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation yesterday from a house fire. Officials say the fire was ignited when a man in the home fell asleep while smoking in bed."

This lede clocks in at 30 words. It's a little longer than the last one, but still short and to the point.

Lede Example 3

Here's something a bit more complicated—this is a story about a hostage situation. Here are your "five W’s and H:"

  • Who: six people, one gunman
  • What: The gunman held six people hostage in a restaurant for two hours before surrendering to police.
  • Where: Billy Bob's Barbecue Joint
  • When: last night
  • Why: The gunman tried robbing the restaurant but police arrived before he could escape.
  • How: He ordered the six people into the kitchen.

Here's how this lede might go:

"A failed robbery of Billy Bob’s Barbeque last evening resulted in six being held hostage as police surrounded the building. The suspect surrendered without incident following a two-hour standoff."

This lede is 29 words, which is impressive for a story that has a bit more complexity to it.

Write Ledes on Your Own

Here are some examples to try on your own.

Lede Exercise 1

  • Who: Barrett Bradley, the president of Centerville College
  • What: He announced tuition will be raised 5%.
  • Where: at a gathering in the college's amphitheater
  • When: yesterday
  • Why: The college is facing a $3 million deficit.
  • How: He will ask the college's board of trustees to approve the tuition hike.

Lede Exercise 2

  • Who: Melvin Washington, point guard for the Centerville High School basketball team
  • What: He scored a record 48 points to lead the team to the state championship over the rival team from Roosevelt High School.
  • Where: in the school's gymnasium
  • When: last night
  • Why: Washington is a gifted athlete who observers say has an NBA career ahead of him.
  • How: He is a remarkably precise shooter who excels at making three-pointers.

Lede Exercise 3

  • Who: Centerville Mayor Ed Johnson
  • What: He held a press conference announcing he has a drinking problem and is stepping down from his post.
  • Where: in his office at City Hall
  • When: today
  • Why: Johnson says he is entering rehab to deal with his alcoholism.
  • How: He will step down and deputy mayor Helen Peterson will take over.