Why getting to the point quickly in your lead is vital online
It’s good stuff if you’re interested in the mechanics of where our little business is headed and what we’ve all learned from Murdoch’s 22-month experiment. But something Alexis Madrigal wrote on the Atlantic website caught my eye on a different subject, one of my favorites:
We talk a lot around here about getting to the point quickly in your lead. Madrigal, using the Atlantic to illustrate a point about the Daily, writes a very good defense of doing just that:
There’s a classic longform convention in profiles of people. The writers tend to drop in to the story sitting with their subjects. They describe what they look like and provide some color about the situation: are they eating? how’d they get there? was the publicist a stickler? does the person appear to be on drugs? Sometimes we get a very short quote from the profilee that is indicative of the person’s affect and intellect. Then, the story, by which I mean the action, really begins. In particular, the stakes are explained lower down in the story, several grafs in. These description-rich ledes come first because that is how it is done (and it can be artful as hell when done perfectly).
Well, we [at the Atlantic Online] found this sort of thing bombs for us over and over. Maybe we don’t profile the right people (disagree!). Maybe we’re terrible at writing these sorts of ledes (perhaps!). Or maybe, just maybe, the form doesn’t work very well to capture the attention of people who are clicking through from an email, IM, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Reddit. You just don’t know what’s happening for several hundred words in some cases. And before the writer answers why you’re reading, that person is gone.
That’s a point that can’t be made too many times. Here it is again, in video form.