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Sep 16 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Taking a stand, ledes & word flow

Here are some highlights in this week’s mailbag from the Bleacher Report Sports Writing Internship program:

I feel like my ledes are getting better, but that they’re also still “sputtering” to a slow start.  How do I fix this?

1. Avoid starting sentences with meaningless phrases like “Of course,” “Obviously” or “At the end of the day” in the first 20 words. If it’s obvious, why state it?  Get right to the point. Don’t feel like you have to justify what you’re going to talk about. (Example: “In any given week of college football…”) Just start talking about it.

If you feel that readers need a little background information or they’ll be lost, don’t lead with it. Lead with what’s new, with what your article is about. Put the background info in the second paragraph.

2. Don’t forget to make every word in your lede count. Every word should be pulling its weight, accomplishing something.  If the sentence stands alone fine without a particular word/phrase, then cut it.

3. Use active voice and strong subjects/verbs. For example, if you have a form of the verb “to be” in your lede (am, are, is, was, were, been), try rewriting to get rid of it and go for the active voice instead. Sometimes it might be hard to do this, but you should try to word for more action when possible.

How can I improve sentence/paragraph “flow”?

Readers should not be out of breath by the time they get done with your sentences.  So, you need to read your own work out loud to catch/fix this ahead of time. The best online rule of thumb is that no more than 2-3 clauses should be stuck together in the same sentence.  Any thought that can stand alone, should.  Use commas to offset clauses that intro a new subject AND verb, but not just one or the other (unless it’s a list series).

Don’t Forget:

- When attempting to build a brand, it’s always better to choose a side than sit on the fence. It’s absolutely great if you’re trying to show both sides of an argument, but you still ultimately want to share your clear opinion by article’s end. Avoid words like “could,” “may,” “might” or “can.” Be definitive.

- When building your headlines, don’t accidentally forget to include the most obvious/usable keyword of them all: the league name!  For example, if you’re writing about the New England Patriots, then include “NFL” somewhere in the headline!  If you’re writing about Pat Summit, then include”NCAA” and so forth…

- Unless you’re discussing specific, credible rumors (with sources), articles that speculate on what trades might be good for a certain team are better titled with the words “Speculation” or “Trade Ideas.”  “Rumors” is specifically reserved only for those articles that are quoting substantiated reports/sources.

Joel Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Internship Program Feedback Editor. Each week (along with contributor Greg Pearl) he includes some hints, tips and answers in an email to those participating in the B/R Sports Writing Internship, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.

  • Pkleiss

    Isn’t a “credible rumor” an oxymoron?

    At best a rumor is hearsay. How can that be considered credible? Once the details of a trade rumor become substantiated, do they not cease being a rumor and become a known entity such as “trade talks”?

    • Michael Schottey

      A rumor has credibility based on its own validity as well as the track record of the person reporting it.

      Take Peyton Manning’s recent issues as an example. When radio people were randomly taking shots in the dark, those were rumors but hardly credible. When Mort from ESPN started echoing the same, it was still a rumor (no confirmation from Peyton’s agent or the organization) but it became more credible.

  • Pkleiss

    According to Websters, a rumor is:
    1) talk or opinion widely disseminated with no discernible source
    2) a statement or report current without known authority for its truth

    There are two more definitions that don’t fit this context and have been omitted.

    So, I ask again, how can a rumor have a credible source? It’s impossible by definition.

    • Michael Schottey

      1. Able to be believed; convincing.
      2. Capable of persuading people that something will happen or be successful:

      Something does not have to be TRUE to be a rumor, it just has to be believable. In journalistic terms, a rumor that comes from a believable source ( ie a trusted journalist who has broken many such stories in the past) and regards something which is believable is, by definition, credible.

      Credible does not mean true, correct or fact. It means believable.