Is it “lead” or “lede”?
August 18, 2019 3:44 AM   Subscribe

And how do you write a good one? A definitive guide on how to describe the beginning or introduction of a news story, and most importantly, on the best way to write one, no matter how you spell it.
posted by bitteschoen (38 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
or should I say “dis-spell”

No. No, you should not.
posted by thelonius at 4:52 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


I always disliked “lede” and particularly the smugness with which people love to correct people who spell it “lead.” But I assumed there was some incontrovertible reasoning behind it. But really? “Nu lede” to avoid confusion with lead type? Forget it. I officially refuse to accept that “correction” again.
posted by argybarg at 5:21 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


I learned graphic arts first by learning to set cold type. It's lead.

For one thing, no one in the print world would ever mistake lead (the beginning of a story) for lead (the thin strips we used to space lines of type.) Throughout the print production process, you never referred in writing to lead (the metal) by name. Rather, you referred to it by what function you wanted it to play. This is, how much leading to use. It's specified as, for instance, 10/12. Ten point type set with 2 points of leading. Nowhere on the markup or proof would the word "lead" appear in reference to line spacing.

I always grimace when I read "lede" online, as I'm pretty confident in assuming the user has zero experience in actual copywriting, copy editing, markup, typesetting, or printing. It's sort of become yet another affectation of our online age, used mainly to bestow the aura of the writer possessing forgotten knowledge.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:22 AM on August 18 [10 favorites]


I always grimace when I read "lede" online, as I'm pretty confident in assuming the user has zero experience in actual copywriting, copy editing, markup, typesetting, or printing. It's sort of become yet another affectation of our online age, used mainly to bestow the aura of the writer possessing forgotten knowledge.

Your confidence is misplaced.

It may be that the reasons for "lede" being used instead of "lead" are mistaken, but "lede" is what I was taught in journalism classes in college and it's the language used by most of the professional writers and editors that I know. Most of whom, I'll add, came up writing for print and not online.
posted by jzb at 5:33 AM on August 18 [39 favorites]


"Lede" if you're actually in a newsroom. Otherwise "Lead".

I was taught conventional wisdom was that newspaper syntax ("lede", "hed", "TK", "-30-", etc.) was deliberately and consistently spelled the way they were to make it clear they were instructions to the staff rather than part of the copy. Most of that necessity went away once newsrooms went electronic and the editors weren't sending copy to the Lino room written on typewriters with editorial changes written in pen over them.
posted by ardgedee at 6:19 AM on August 18 [9 favorites]


(Wherever one comes down on lede/lead, Roy Peter Clark is a treasure. His Writing Tools is one of those books I keep close to hand, as good for flipping through for random instruction and inspiration as for reading straight through. The quote in this article about the lion-tamer's wedding is a nice example of his tool 32, "Place gold coins along the path: Reward the reader with high points, especially in the middle.")
posted by mittens at 6:30 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Definitely read the comments.
posted by notyou at 6:37 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


For one thing, no one in the print world would ever mistake lead (the beginning of a story) for lead (the thin strips we used to space lines of type.)

Ironically, I just now found out I am saying "ledding" wrong and that it refers to the metal , so I am now pro per-context lead spellings
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:40 AM on August 18


However you spell it, bury it, bury it deep.
posted by sammyo at 6:51 AM on August 18 [5 favorites]


I haven’t visited “lead/lede” since I was in middle school newspaper class and had that teacher tell us all “its lede” in this very serious way, and me just wanting to write and not deal with the minutiae of how we spelled the words that describe the format of the article, was like “okay, ms. Pedantic it’s lede, got it” and I just kept on doing it that way.

So yeah I’ll probably use both now cause I really don’t care either way.
posted by nikaspark at 7:14 AM on August 18


From the comments: "CQ (correct), 30 (end it), POTUS (President of the US), SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the US), et al, come from the Phillips Telegraphic Code, by AP man Walter P. Phillips, a former Western Union expert telegrapher who created many codes (and, probably, also pulled together existing codes used by others) . Unfortunately, Mr. Phillips couldn’t abbreviate the title of his great work, which is The Phillips Telegraphic Code for the Rapid Transmission by Telegraph of Press Reports , Commercial and Private Telegrams, and All Other Matter Sent by Wire or Cable.”"
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:18 AM on August 18 [13 favorites]


I've spent most of my life in newsrooms. I have my own theory: All professions have their insider stuff. This is one. Plus, I think there is secret pleasure for people who must spell everything correctly to have terms that are intentionally spelled "incorrectly."
posted by cccorlew at 7:22 AM on August 18 [13 favorites]


Unfortunately, Mr. Phillips couldn’t abbreviate the title of his great work, which is The Phillips Telegraphic Code for the Rapid Transmission by Telegraph of Press Reports , Commercial and Private Telegrams, and All Other Matter Sent by Wire or Cable.

That's weird, I've always abbreviated it as The PTCRTTPRCPTAOMSWC.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:57 AM on August 18 [7 favorites]


I have my own theory: All professions have their insider stuff. This is one.

Indeed. I work with technologists (and edit their writing...) who would scoff at "lede" and say it's silly, and can't be bothered to learn the difference* between "its" and "it's" or their/there/they're, (or my most current pet peeve, using "then" when it should be "than"). They will then assume you are the most ignorant of savages should you get the slightest technical detail wrong, no matter how incidental or justified. ("You're so very wrong that AcmeWriter didn't support tables until 2.0. It was very clearly enabled in 1.98.1rc3 as a technical preview, just read the source code. I'll never trust the technical press again.")

*Since this often comes up when these errors are discussed, I am only pointing a finger at native English speakers. I'm sure I'd have difficulty with these things in another language myself. Another argument, in my mind, for "lede" is that it cannot as easily be mistaken for another word in English, and might be of benefit to folks who find multipurpose words like "lead" where you must divine meaning by context clues confusing.
posted by jzb at 8:06 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


It's lede and hed and dek for the same reason it's TK: you don't want editorial notes mistaken for copy and accidentally ending up in print (or posted online). Misspelled words and unusual letter combinations are easier to spot .
posted by neroli at 8:07 AM on August 18 [17 favorites]


Is this where we get to complain about how all US news stories, no matter how big, must now begin with a focus on a single individual, rather than giving us the big-picture What, When, Where, Who and Why? That's what you mean by the lead or lede or hed, right? Seems like I have to scan down two or three paragraphs to get to that now, and because of this 'personal focus' custom I've learned you can usually nowadays pretty much skip the first paragraph.
posted by Rash at 8:56 AM on August 18 [10 favorites]


That's what you mean by the lead or lede or hed, right?
No, the lede is just the opening paragraph(s), and that's true whether you're writing an "inverted pyramid" structure (all the most important factual information at the beginning) or starting off anecdotally (in which case, the important factual information will be in the "nut graf" a few paragraphs down).

"Hed" means headline.
posted by neroli at 9:21 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


When I was nine, and very impressionable, the single-handed editor/compositor/printer of the local eight page weekly newspaper in our tiny town decided I might like to learn to work the real life lead slug Linotype. This involved an almost Masonic ritual of learning terms like dele, stet, lede and "ledding" and why they were said that way. It was sorcery, of course.
I was also taught that you could get 3rd degree burns from a teeny, tiny little droplet of molten lead, so try not to do that again.

This is the kind of education that sticks with you, so forgive those of us who underwent the ritual, as well as hanging on to the other utterly useless, mildly interesting stuff we had to learn then.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 9:27 AM on August 18 [8 favorites]


the important factual information will be in the "nut graf" a few paragraphs down).

A certain professor/former journalist at my grad school alma mater calls it the "hoo-ha."

She will walk amid class desks in order to "see your hoo-ha."

No, really.
posted by jgirl at 10:02 AM on August 18 [9 favorites]


Reads to me like a clever gender flip on “nut graf.”
posted by sjswitzer at 10:11 AM on August 18 [5 favorites]


Can we talk about "stet"?

No?
posted by adamg at 10:11 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Can we talk about "stet"?

Sure. Stet and dele are frequent crossword answers, presumably because of the peculiar contortions that crossword puzzle makers find themselves needing to make. For some reason lede isn't, which is a little surprising considering it's just as much a piece of editorial arcana. I guess somehow english language clues just don't tempt the use of lede in the same way.
posted by axiom at 10:15 AM on August 18


A lot people seem surprised that journalism is, like, an actual profession, with terms of art and established practices.
posted by neroli at 10:27 AM on August 18 [21 favorites]


I graduated from journalism school (Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, Washington State University, go Cougs!) in 1978. I worked on the university paper (after working on my high school paper) and then worked as a journalist for a number of years after graduation (a small number but still a number). I never saw the term "lede" until maybe five years ago.
posted by lhauser at 10:36 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Can we talk about "stet"?

Let it be.
posted by lhauser at 10:38 AM on August 18 [20 favorites]


Regardless of formal lore, "lede" always struck me as something that originated in-house when an editor of note spelled the word wrong, was called on it, then came up with a rationale.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:47 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


So the meaning of "lede" was tk?
posted by adamg at 10:51 AM on August 18


"Regardless of formal lore, "lede" always struck me as something that originated in-house when an editor of note spelled the word wrong, was called on it, then came up with a rationale."

No, no. It was coined in 1919 by Cecil R. Lede...
posted by jzb at 11:01 AM on August 18


It's lede and hed and dek for the same reason it's TK: you don't want editorial notes mistaken for copy and accidentally ending up in print (or posted online)

Just yesterday I got a daily update email from The New Yorker (or is it the New Yorker?) with the heading
America's Exclusionary History - Plus: TKTKTK
posted by moonmilk at 11:31 AM on August 18


Is this where we get to complain about how all US news stories, no matter how big, must now begin with a focus on a single individual, rather than giving us the big-picture What, When, Where, Who and Why?

This is what's known in the biz as a "soft" lede, which is used for articles such as features, "second-day" news stories, which attempt to put the news in perspective, or "enterprise" pieces, articles that may have taken weeks or months to report, as opposed to hard news stories, which are typically presented in the inverted pyramid format.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 11:34 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


Can we talk about "stet"?

If you buy me dinner first.
posted by stet at 11:54 AM on August 18 [9 favorites]


The long supposed proof that "lede" should be "lead" because the former spelling has only been in use for 50 years or so is about as exciting as junior high school students explaining that "decimate" means "reduce by 10%" and you're using it wrong.

Also:
For the record, I have yet to see a dictionary citation for lede, even as an alternate spelling
Seriously?

I'm not a journalist and always thought of "lede" as a useful term of art. IIUC it means just the opening paragraph, which is something different from the plain English word "lead."

In fact, I'm honestly not 100% sure if the recent advice he quotes about what a "lead" means "get this stuff out early in the story" or "make it the opening sentence or paragraph." Maybe it's clear from context but if it's the latter, the lede spelling would be unambiguous. (It actually seems to be the former in the longer, later quotes on lead writing, but maybe not all of them.)

Is this where we get to complain about how all US news stories, no matter how big, must now begin with a focus on a single individual, rather than giving us the big-picture What, When, Where, Who and Why?

To randomly test this claim, I counted the front page of the LA Times today. It has zero stories that tell you what the story is about in the first paragraph. Sundays are a bit weird, but still. It's annoying IMHO.
posted by mark k at 12:19 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I so dearly wish I had access to this article when I was still a journalist. It would have helped immensely.
posted by Lynsey at 12:25 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Back in high school, I was in the newspaper, yearbook and TV production classes. I attended with Mr. Clark's children and we went to Poynter for many a class, including some taught by Mr. Clark.

That place, and as mittens says above, Mr. Clark, are treasures.

Poynter, and the Tampa Bay Times, have long meant serious journalism in a state which desperately needs it. Tampa Bay Times is owned by the Poynter Institute, which makes it less beholden to corporate interests.

While I never took a job in journalism, I'm thankful for the kind of knowledge-seeking skepticism I learned from these experiences.
posted by tomierna at 1:00 PM on August 18


Then there's "folo" and "invu".

And sometimes you have to "just sic it."
posted by jgirl at 2:07 PM on August 18


I have a similar problem with base and bass.... and bass.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:34 PM on August 18


Graghrhhaghhh both lede and lead always make me growl irritably in this context, because as a UK journalist they don't mean to me what they mean to US journos. To me the lead is the main story on a page (aka the page lead). The most important bit of the story, the bit you'd pitch in news conference (what you call the lead/lede) is called the top line.

So.... Harrassed news editor, coming out of conference and touring the reporters: "Penguin pie, yours is the lead on 5, top line is how these people got their cats wedged into their scanners. Do a sidebar on the why."
posted by penguin pie at 2:48 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]


However you spell it, bury it, bury it deep

Sometimes lead is better.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:45 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


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