Monday, February 16, 2009

Don't mess with the Jazz!

In high school, when I first learned about journalism, my teacher taught me about feature stories and what makes them different from news in a way that I will never forget. He said a feature story is like jazz music. It is smooth and beautiful. It tells a story unlike a news article would. In teaching me about a feature lead, he told my class that it is more artistic and free-forming (when compared to a summary lead). The feature lead can ask a question or tell a story while a summary lead must get straight to the point of the important information. A feature lead, like jazz, has the freedom to move around and eventually make its point.

My first example of a feature lead came from "The Washington Post" on Sunday, February, 15, 2009. Headlined, "Coloring Perception" author Blake Gopnik, a Washington Post staff writer, begins his story with the following lead:

CHICAGO -- Can an artist get much more successful than Kerry James Marshall? Museums everywhere own his work. (The Corcoran was one of his first buyers. And the Baltimore Museum of Art is displaying his "Ladder of Success," a recent purchase.) In 1997, he won the $500,000 MacArthur "genius" award, an ultra-prestigious invitation to Germany's twice-a-decade Documenta show and a place in the Whitney Museum's biennial.

Gopnik begins his feature story with question. The book suggests that it is almost never necessary to use a question lead because as a reporter you should be giving information not quizzing the reader. However, I think in the case of this story the lead works. When I first read the lead, I asked myself why I didn't know who he was. I think this was the authors main intention to pull in the reader.

My second lead came from "The Washington Post" on Monday, February 16, 2009. Headlined, "Venice Dresses Up for Carnevale" author Mathias Wildt wrote the following lead:

On a foggy February morning a few years ago, my wife and I were walking down an alley in Venice when we turned a corner and were confronted by an amazing sight: a procession of 30 human figures seeming to glide on the stone pavement in complete silence, like aliens.

This is a good example of an anecdotal feature lead. In this case, the lead works well as the author tells a story about his own experience at Carnevale, a huge celebration.

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