One of the seven major sins that reporters were once told to avoid is burying the lede.
(Tangent: It is a mystery to me when journalists started spelling it “lede” to differentiate a news lede from, say, the lead paragraph of a news story or the leader of the free world. But there it is.)
To bury the lede means to tell the most important part of a story deep inside the story. For example: The Megacorporation has announced a major advance in its manufacturing process that will take the company to the next level of wonderfulness. The process allows the corporation to fulfill its mission of making the world a better place while pleasing its shareholders and investors bigtime. “This is a fantabulous moment in human history as Megacorporation moves into the brightest future imaginable,” said Todd Bogguss, president and CEO. The company is laying off 30 percent of its workforce as part of the major restructuring.
What’s the lede? What’s the most important fact? What should have gone first?
I might suggest that the reporter rewrite the story with the lede, “Megacorporation is laying off thousands of workers as part of what its CEO describes as a restructuring that will take the company to the next level of wonderfulness.”
So why is it so hard for TV sports announcers to do it?
(Tangent: So when did people start starting every sentence with “so”?)
(Tangent 2: See what I just did there? I buried the lede. This post is about sports reporters who hold the most important part of the story until the end.)
What is the most important part of a story about a football game or a baseball game? Can we agree that it’s who won and what was the score?
I spend almost every sportscast waiting to find out who won and what was the score. I’m not kidding.
“It was a big night for the Astor City Juggernauts, who were trying to snap a five-game losing streak and hang onto their slim lead in the Major League Central.”
(Did they win?)
“Let’s go to the second inning, when Boffo McKinley cracks a clutch two-run double to put the Jugs up by three in the early going.”
(What was the score?)
“But the Rascals fought back with a five-run fifth inning to tie it up, and Manager Trip Jagger was forced to bring in his closer early to stop the bleeding.”
(WHO WON? WHAT WAS THE SCORE?)
“Back and forth, back and forth, until the bone-stirring bottom of the ninth when Punch Judie and Rip Hamster faced off in a classic showdown with the winning run on third base.”
(PLEASE! I’M BEGGIN’ YA!! WHO WON??! WHAT WAS THE SCORE?!?!?!)
“After fouling off a world-record 17 pitches, Hamster smacks a line drive just over the shortstop’s head, and the Juggernauts walk off with an 8-7 victory the likes of which the world has never seen.”
That, my friends, is burying the lede.
What in the wide, wide world of sports would be so hard about STARTING the story by saying the Juggernauts snapped a five-game losing streak with an 8-7 victory the likes of which the world has never seen?
I would hang around to watch the highlights of that victory; you don’t have to hold me hostage and make me wait to give me that basic information.
Why has this become common practice? I imagine someone countering that if you just want the score, you can call it up on your smartphone anytime. I imagine someone saying that because of our instant information age, the TV news has become your way of experiencing the thrill of the game in 45 seconds, including the part about not knowing what the final outcome will be.
Phooey, I say. If you want your listeners to get the basic information on their smartphones, you’re making your own product irrelevant. If you bury the lede every dang time, you’re making your product annoying – as proof, I present this 600-plus word rant.
Tell the most important part first, and then give the important details. That’s basic journalism since the beginning of time. “President Roosevelt said Sunday was a day of infamy during a speech to Congress calling for a declaration of war,” not “Congress met Monday in an air of anticipation over how the nation would respond to Sunday’s attack on Pearl Harbor.”
OK, 700-plus words.