Sunday, March 20, 2016

Want a model for how to write a lede?

At critique a few weeks ago, we took a look at the ledes in the newspaper and tried rewriting some to make them more:
• accurate
• clear
• to the point
• compelling

So as I started reading the San Francisco Chronicle's story this morning about uneven punishment for sexual harassment at UC Berkeley ("Disparity in UC discipline"), I knew I had to post the first few paragraphs of Annette Asimov's story as a model. Hers is a well-reported but complicated, multi-sourced story that could have been tough to summarize and get into.

Here's the top:

UC Berkeley has a clear system in place for investigating employees accused of sexually harassing students or colleagues— but a gaping hole exists when it comes to disciplining the rule-breakers.

Punishment is often arbitrary.

The issue of capricious discipline has emerged as a big problem at the premier public university as cases have mounted.

Four highly paid employees whose violations of the University of California's sexual harassment policy came to light in the last year all received different punishments: an astronomy professor got a warning, the dean of the law school had his pay temporarily reduced and was told to apologize, a vice chancellor had to resign that position but was given another high-profile job two months later, and an assistant coach -- the lowest-paid and the only one without tenure -- was immediately fired.

Look at what Asimov does here:
• The basic story is summed up in the first paragraph: Policy is in Place - BUT - There's a Problem
• Second paragraph: PUNCH, four words, THE PROBLEM (the heart of the story).
• Next, a sentence to put the story in context.
• Then straight to the specifics, the evidence, that the university has not done what it says it does. And what a great twist at the end of this long paragraph to provide the "why" of the story: the powerful don't have to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Asimov has been writing and reporting for a long time, and she has won several awards. If you're looking for a reporter to emulate, she would be a great choice.

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