July 22, 2004

Note To Journalists

Dear journalistic community:

I am here to inform you of something vitally important to our writing discipline. I know many within our ranks differ in opinion on all matter of issues, from bias, to editing standards, to the best type of fonts and, to a lesser extent, whether something is less filling or whether it tastes great.

However, there is a growing controversy that I think needs to be put to rest before it boils out of control and we journalists take sides until we pour out into the streets weilding extra-sharp pencils, intent on battle.

In the old days of journalism, you see, newspaper type was set in lead. Also, in the old days, the opening sentence of every article was called the "lead." Alas, the similarity in spellings caused newsrooms no end of strife. Were they talking about the metal, or the opening paragraph? No one could seem to keep them straight. Lead paragraphs ended up getting mixed in with the type, and little metal letters kept landing on the opening paragraphs of countless news stories. Chaos was only a matter of time.

Something had to be done.

To keep Armegeddon out of the newsrooms, it was decreed that the opening sentence was to be henceforth called the "lede." And, lo, the clouds did part, and the sun broke through, and those in the news business gazed in wonderment at their newly-minted word. They had created "lede," and it was good.

Except that "lede" looks really gay.

Thus began the controversy.

On the one side, there are the conservative journalists, like myself, who think, since the opening sentence leads off an article, it should be called the "lead." It just makes all sorts of sense. Those of us who believe in "lead" are a hardy bunch. We take our coffee strong, we swear a lot, we think about sex every five seconds and we're all smoking hot specimens of journalistic beauty.

In the other camp are the elitist snobs who prefer the "lede" spelling. They like "lede" because it signifies to others that "hey, I went to journalism school." Those who use "lede" are a pansy bunch of milquetoasts, usually with pasty faces and an inflated air of self-importance. Most of them prefer "lede" because it looks suspiciously like a French word, which makes them feel worldly and intellectual. Typically, "lede" users aren't ugly, but their looks are usually decidedly plain.

Such are the battle lines being drawn, and I think it's high time we set the matter straight. Simply stated, since newsrooms no longer utilize lead type, it's pointless to have a made-up word to distinguish between a metal and an opening sentence. The time has come to sweep "lede" aside like so many little lead type letters. We should divest ourselves of "lede" and never speak of it again. It was a mistake, and one that should have never been allowed to happen in the first place.

We will accept you back into our "lead" ranks, oh "lede" proponents, but first you have to agree never to use "lede" again, not even in the privacy of your own homes. You can't even write it down and put it in a little box and look at it from time to time.

"Lede" is dead. Move on. Come back over to our side, where the beautiful journalists live. And we party like crazy. In that respect, we've taken the "lead."

Posted by Ryan at July 22, 2004 03:45 PM

Thank God this battle doesn't apply to us Technical Writers. We can just sit on the sidelines and watch you crazy journalists tear each other apart.

....ok, it's actually not all that good being a tec writer. All we want to do is be a real journalist, but we don't have the chops so we're relegated to writing manuals, release notes, and online documentation. Oh, what I wouldn't do to be one of you beautiful journalists.

Posted by: Rick at July 22, 2004 04:18 PM

Take heart, Rick. I spent two years in hell as a technical editor, in charge of editing those horridly boring technical manuals. It was like I was serving time for some unknown crime. The good news? I escaped that prison in IBM to. . . go to another prison in IBM, but at least now I write newsy-type articles for real magazines and everything. You can do it, too, Rick. There's hope. Not much, mind you, but there's hope.

Posted by: Ryan at July 22, 2004 04:27 PM

has anybody met a pressmen, or better, a linotype technician? they are a robust sort, to say the least. which is why i never understood why they didn't have e revolt of their own. lead—lede, shit, they should have went to led, taken off their t-shirts.

Posted by: seed at July 23, 2004 12:54 AM

let me rephrase that…
led as read off their t-shirts.
never ask a pressmen to take off his shirt.

Posted by: seed at July 23, 2004 12:55 AM

"Lede" should never die. I'm sorry, but once you kill off "lede," you'll have to kill of "hed" and, God forbid, "stet."

Keep your anarchy in your own damn newsroom.

Posted by: clapper at July 29, 2004 03:34 PM

Clapper, I have no problem with "Hed" because it's one less letter than "Head" and is therefore quicker and easier to write. "Stet" I've never been able to figure out, but I have no problem with that one, either. But, come on, man, "Lede" has gotta go. Just looking at it makes me feel all wussy-like.

Posted by: Ryan at July 29, 2004 03:53 PM
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