Homework Assignment: Analyzing Three Leads

1.  Renewed Fighting Around Donetsk Airport Tests Ukraine Cease-Fire

DONETSK, Ukraine — Deadly fighting has broken out again between the government and rebels around the strategically important airport outside Donetsk, a continuing source of friction that is testing the resilience of a recent cease-fire agreement. (New York Times)

At first glance, that lead seems good. It tells you the news — briefly and straight to the point. It has some context — not too much, but enough to explain why this story is important (the airport being “strategically important” and “a continuing source of friction”; the fighting being important because of a cease-fire agreement). It is correct, accurate and objective — it states the fact and doesn’t take sides. Basically, there’s just the right amount of information here to make you want to know more.

However, closer to the end of the story it turns out that it’s NOT only about the fighting around Donetsk airport. At some point it suddenly starts telling us about what happened in Kharkiv where a statue of Lenin was toppled yesterday. So, basically, the story is not about one particular episode in the Ukrainian conflict, but about everything that happened in Ukraine during the last 24 years. Well, you couldn’t expect that from the headline or the lead.

That said, maybe that’s the problem with the story itself, not with the lead.

2. Schoolgirl jihadis: the female Islamists leaving home to join Isis fighters

Hundreds of girls and women are going missing in the west, reappearing in Iraq and Syria to bear children for the caliphate

Hundreds of young women and girls are leaving their homes in western countries to join Islamic fighters in the Middle East, causing increasing concern among counter-terrorism investigators.

Girls as young as 14 or 15 are travelling mainly to Syria to marry jihadis, bear their children and join communities of fighters, with a small number taking up arms. Many are recruited via social media. (The Guardian)

I think this is good. Well, the story itself is breath-taking enough to catch your eye and to get you to read the whole thing. Still, this lead really helps to make it happen.

To be honest, I was expecting a some kind of anecdote when I clicked on the headline — like a story of some woman who joined Isis, but apparently reporters didn’t have enough evidence to picture one. They had some names (they are mentioned in captions that go along with photographs), but not proper stories. And I have to say that the lead does its job even without an anecdote. It tells us what the story is about, it gives some details that are really impressive and catching (for example, these girls’ very young age or the fact that they are recruited via social media.)

3. South Columbia gardens nurture community spirit, connection to nature

Gardening can mean different things to different people.

For Guillermo Hernandez, 14, or “G” as he’s called by other volunteers at Stormy’s Meadow, gardening helps him see how much labor goes into his food. “That’s not something on your shelf that you just pick up randomly,” he said. (The Columbia Missourian)

I’m sorry to say this, but I didn’t like that one too much. I think there are several problems with this lead.

First: the first paragraph (which in this case equals the first sentence). I can see what a reporter meant to do here — basically, to come up with a general statement that then would be illustrated with some examples. However, this statement is just too broad. “Gardening can mean different things to different people” — well, you could say that about anything. “Marriage can mean different things to different people.” “Being stuck in traffic can mean different things to different people”. “Doughnuts can mean different things to different people”. Etc. From a reader’s point of view, this sentence is pretty discouraging, I think; it doesn’t attract you to the story.

Second: I couldn’t understand from the headline and the lead what the story was actually about. Well, it’s about gardening, I got that much. But what gardening? And why is it so important that the story is on the Missourian’s front page? The explanation comes in the fifth paragraph (it’s about community gardening and volunteers who work there and make it an important experience for the citizens), and for this story this is too late. It could be all right, if it was preceded by some catchy anecdote, but it isn’t.

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