About fifteen or twenty years ago a dramatic change occurred in much of reporting. Hard opening paragraphs were replaced with soft. This approach now infects all manner of writing, in and out of journalism. That includes television and radio reporting. Even company writing. I’m revising nearly every opening that comes across my desk.
A standard opening might have been,
“John Smith, 32, was badly injured in a vehicle accident last night on the 215 Expressway. He was the sole occupant of the vehicle which was hit by a big rig driving in the wrong direction. As of press time, Smith remains in guarded condition in the Intensive Care Unit of St John’s Hospital.”
“John Smith was a hard working owner of a bait and tackle shop in suburban Urbana. He had kids, a mortgage, a wife of five years, and a dog. Last night his life was shattered. Possibly forever. For reasons still unknown, a big rig traveling in the wrong direction on the 215 collided with Smith’s vehicle head on. A GoFundMe account has been set up to cover some of Smiths’ medical bills.”
Here’s a lead from a randomly selected law office post on ridesharing:
“Ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft have drastically changed the way people get around the city when they can’t or don’t want to do the driving. No one can disregard the fact that Uber or Lyft makes traveling easier and more convenient especially after a night of partying and drinking. DUI’s have reportedly dropped anywhere from 15% to 62% as a result of ridesharing. Car accidents, unfortunately, continue to happen.”
Here’s how I would rewrite the lead:
“Accident cases involving rideshare companies like Uber or Lyft are complex and difficult. The law governing the rideshare industry is rapidly changing and it requires an experienced accident lawyer to keep up. Only such an attorney can get you the compensation you deserve.”
What has happened to writing? Get to the point. Engage in storytelling if you must but open with a concise and informative lead.
Who, what, where, when, why, how. Then, everything else.
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