Lessons I’ve learned on writing better ledes

Beginnings say as much about who begins them as they do about what they begin.

Journalists and writers, of professional kind or independent and online, take very seriously the ledes they produce and how others see them.

It’s very likely that I have had harsher scrutiny for ledes I’ve written than for anything else, and it’s even more likely you’ve found the same. Thusly, I’ve gotten lots of lede lessons through the years, particularly those with a bite or two that are worth sharing.

Below, lessons I’ve learned about crafting a strong lede. Share your own, so I can add to this list.

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Can you still start a freelancing career?

After announcing I took a step away from freelancing, a legal aide with aspirations of a cushy freelance career shot me an e-mail.

“Can people still even start a freelance career?”

I did it for just a year and did so out of college, so I don’t pretend to be any sort of expert. Yet, as writing — like publishing — as a commodity falls in value (and the prices that come with them), I sure feel like it’s worth making clear my experience.

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The basics of a news story in five bullet points and five minutes

I shared the rough curriculum I had established for working with a journalism club at a neighborhood school before my time there was cut short.

Just a week after I took a full-time job and told the club’s adviser that I’d have to take a bit of a sabbatical from my time there, I wanted to give a primer to have a conversation about the basics of journalism with her students.

In fewer than ten minutes, I tried to bottle an entire journalism degree into five bullet points. Clearly I missed plenty.

Below, see what I shared. Let me know what giant holes these high school kids will have in their foundation because of my failures!

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Faint Praise from Philly Weekly Better than Best issue

All of my thoughts

Eh, who has the energy. Instead, I’ll leave it to you:

Philadelphia Weekly’s Better than Best issue

Best Self-Promoters on the New Media Scene

To be honest, we’re not always sure exactly what it is the young journalists at Technically Philly are trying to accomplish at the site. Are they attempting to chronicle the local media’s often-painful transition into the web-centric era? Well, yes, there’s certainly that. But it sometimes seems that TP’s contributors are trying to bring about the future of media by loudly declaring themselves to be the future of media. The guys—Sean Blanda, Brian James Kirk and Chris Wink—are certainly good at getting their names out there: The trio appeared last spring at BarCamp Philly, a gathering of veteran journalists, to explain the virtues of their approach. And if that approach appears to be a combination of web links, brief stories and occasional interviews that skim the surface of the local scene—well, who’s to say that isn’t the future of media? [Source]

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A high school journalism club curriculum

Before I suspended my trips to Frankford High School to work with the school’s journalism club, we established what would have been a nice rhythm.

Every Thursday, I would come and give a lesson, and the following Monday, the students would use what we talked about and put it into practice by getting out of the classroom and shuttling around the school.

With Pioneer Times adviser Beth Ziegenfus, I established a rough curriculum time line, which you can see below and the details of which I hope to continue to share here.

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Five rules of freelancing I found and didn’t always follow

I pursued lots of advice in my young freelance career. A lot of it has been good. A lot of it has been repetitive.

In fact, I’ve heard five pieces of advice perhaps more often than any others. Funny enough, they may be among the pieces of advice the ones I still have the most work to do on mastering.

In hoping you can do a better job than I can, below I share the fives rules of freelancing I have been told and failed to follow most often.

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The chair that’s reserving your snowy parking spot in Fishtown

I’m no serious driver, but I’m fascinated by car culture in all its forms.

Like the severity with which parking is taken in many urban neighborhoods in even transited cities, Philadelphia certainly included. My own new neighborhood of Fishtown has all the makings of a fight to be had: long-time residents, a conflicting gentrifying population, limited parking, middle class to working class and, recently, a historic snowfall.

Where even the mayor seems to support saving street parking if you’ve cleaned out a spot and the requisite question comes of what that all means, I’m slowly developing my own opinion.

I’ve been in neighborhoods where people reserve parking year round — around a quickly expanding Temple University community with serious town-gown issues — and so these topics seem to vary. But mostly, I figure you ought to have a majority of these requisites to toss a chair of bucket to block off street parking.

  1. Snow storm or some other limited or relatively rare happenstance that dramatically limits parking
  2. You dug out the spot
  3. It’s in front of your house
  4. It’s on your block
  5. You’re elderly or infirm
  6. You have children younger than five
  7. You’re grocery shopping, moving or something else involved lugging or carrying from your car to your house
  8. It’s for fewer than 12 hours
  9. Only one per household
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News forms of the future

pumpkin_pieWe may lose someday newspapers in their traditional form, but we’re seeing a flourishing of alternatives fill those lost pieces of pie.

Some are more skeptical of how quickly we’ll be able to bring back the creation of that news, but through variation, experimentation and loyalty, it my well be done.

I very much see a future of journalism handled by an endless collection of small niche, targeted news sites, big investigative work done by nonprofits and foundation-funded, independents, in addition to a  handful of big news organizations finding their own niche — the NPR network and modified newspaper businesses like the New York Times owning international, the Wall Street Journal owning business (though they’re competing), USA Today and the Washington Post focusing on the national.

Below, I offer a hastily put together, rough breakdown of that.

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