Like a talented leadoff hitter, leads set the table for a game story or preview. They put the story in play in a reader’s mind, meaning, to continue the metaphor, that the writer might eventually score by compelling people to read on. Too many leads are the equivalent of a strikeout while looking; no big swings and misses. The bat never leaves many writers’ shoulders.
I read many leads that just state one team will play another or that one team will travel to a compete somewhere, information that can be found on schedules. It’s as if the writer could not be bothered to check anything, when, in fact, these writers should be looking at the opposing team’s stats and results on an athletics website and reviewing stories written about the team by local media. In addition, writers should investigate trends and key performances by their own school’s team. Ultimately, a preview needs to reveal potential storylines and to let readers know how the next game impacts a team’s season. Each game is a chapter in a book. What might unfold in the next chapter? A little drama doesn’t hurt, either.
There’s little reason, though, to keep reading after the following leads, recently published on college media websites. [The school names were changed so as not to embarrass the writers.]
- “As a few members of the team traveled to Flatbush University for the weekend, the rest of the teams traveled to Pomona University for the Blazing Tigers Multi-Event Meet.”
- “On Thursday, a members of the Florida State men and women’s track teams participated in the Kearney State Invitational.”
- “The Huskies baseball team finished up a three-game series against the Valdosta State Honey Bears Sunday, April 17.”
Avoid leads that focus on a team traveling to compete, participating in an event, or finishing a series. Instead, focus on what a team should expect after traveling to participate in an event for a preview, or that addresses a key play, trend or performance from a game or weekend series for a game story. After reading so many poorly structured leads, it’s a pleasure to stumble across a well-written piece, such as this one by Brian Scott Rippee for the The Daily Mississippian:
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this weekend’s series between No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 13 LSU at Swayze Field.
This late-April SEC series features two teams that are teetering on the cusp of hosting a regional or having to go elsewhere come June. D1 Baseball’s latest projections had LSU as a host and Ole Miss as a two-seed, while Baseball America had Ole Miss hosting and the Tigers at a two-seed.
To put it simply: Both teams really need this series.
This is a writer who clearly understands the significance and drama of the weekend baseball series. I was perusing the website to learn more about offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, but got caught up reading about this series – even though I do not follow Ole Miss baseball. But I could not stop reading. Along the way, I learned about each team’s pitchers: Ole Miss’ Brady Bramlett and LSU’s Jared Poche. Writes Rippee:
“The two have had similar years to this point in the sense that they have been good on Friday nights for their respective teams, but not in that dominant echelon where a couple of SEC Friday night starters are.”
I also learned that “LSU runs a lot,” the Tigers have attempted a conference-best 94 steals, twice as many as Ole Miss. I’m definitely going to follow-up on the series this weekend.
I was also impressed by one of our own school’s emerging sports writers, Sean Hastings, who wrote this lead for a mid-week story in the Daily Eastern News that serves both as an analysis piece and a preview for the EIU softball team’s upcoming games.
A shutout win against Murray State April 3rd at the time may not have seemed like a big deal, but looking back, it is what flipped the Panthers’ season around.
Eastern opened the season strong with a three-game series sweep over Tennessee-Martin, but the Panthers went on to lose their next six OVC games. Eastern had a record of 3-6 in OVC play until game three of the Murray State series.
The Panthers have gone on to win 10 straight games in OVC competition, thanks to dominating pitching performances from sophomore pitchers Jessica Wireman and Michelle Rogers and the hitters getting timely hits.
Sean, who wrote 100-plus stories this year as a sophomore, continues to improve as both a writer and a reporter. You can, too, if you evaluate your own work, analyze the work of others, and write/report at every opportunity.
One last thing to consider: While you should regularly read the very best, you should not compare yourself to these experienced sports journalists. Instead, compare yourself to yourself, checking to see if you are a better sports journalist now than six months ago, a year ago – whatever the time frame. I still do this at age 53. So keep plugging away and you’ll notice the results sooner than later.