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Leads & Teases

other topics under BASICS: Avoiding "Cop Talk", Broadcast Sentence-Structure, Charges & Allegations, Rewriting Copy, Using Numbers

Getting listeners to keep their radios tuned to your entire newscast...that's the function of leads and teases. (Incidentally, the first phrase of the previous sentence is itself a tease.) Despite the importance of leads and teases, many radio journalists do not understand how to fashion effective "hooks" to keep listeners listening.

Repetition is the most common mistake

Repetition is the most common mistake made in leads and teases. As you may have experienced when recognizing the identity of the first six words of the subhead with those at the beginning of this paragraph, repetition of words or ideas is tedious. Listeners understandably come to believe that there is far less news than meets the ear.

Yet repetition is a far-too-frequent feature of news writing, especially between the lead-in to tape (be it voicer, wrap or actuality) and the first sentence on that tape. Here's one such example:

The second sentence of the lead provides information that is immediately given again by the first sentence of the tape. This is not, however, the only problem with this lead.

Keep it fresh

Tenses of the past should be avoided in leads and teases. The preterite, or simple past tense, must almost never be used. Any past action should be described in the perfect tense -- "have/has" + past participle, which often ends in "-ed." The stative quality of the perfect tense can make it seem like the present.

Better still is the use of the present progressive tense -- "am/are/is" + present participle ending in "-ing" -- to describe an event that has just taken place. In the story above, it would have been better to write:

Present tenses give immediacy and energy to news writing, allowing listeners to feel that they are hearing about the news as it is taking place. Moreover, in the course of the day leads should be advanced to freshen the story...even though the same tape is being used. In the example story given above, a later lead for the same tape could be as follows:

The changing lead shifts the emphasis of the story to a future event, the appointment of a new lottery director. The tape then functions as background information for this future event, and so the package of lead and tape together remain fresh.

Absent antecedent alert!

A frequent error in teases is the use of pronouns without any reference to identify the pronouns. The pronouns' antecedents are absent. This error leads to teases such as:

Who is "he"? Who are "they"? (The story concerns a convicted murderer who asked the jury to sentence him to death, but the jury decided instead on a sentence of life in prison without parole.)

Some might claim that this lead has mystery, and this mystery will compel listeners to stay tuned. There certainly is mystery, but confusion seems the only result in the minds of listeners. A better tease gives listeners information, not a guessing game:

Teases should not tell the entire story, but teases are only a sentence long. Even the most information-packed short sentence can rarely give all the necessary details to satisfy listeners. The tease whets the appetite of listeners, who will want the completeness of hearing the full script if they have an idea of what the story is about. Deliberately confusing or gimmicky teases only frustrate listeners and drive them away.

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