Creating a News Lead

A typical newspaper article is broken down into the headline, the lead, and the body of the story. The first paragraph of a news story is called the lead. Condensing the main facts or ideas about an entire news event into just a few lines of type is not easy. Learning to write good leads is one of the most important skills a journalist can master.

The who, what, where, when, why, and how should be addressed in the lead, though not ALL the items must be addressed. However, you have to consider what are the most important elements to include right away. Remember, we go from MOST important to LEAST important in a news story. This follows the same pattern in the lead as well.

You must include:

WHAT? You don’t have a story without the what: something happened. What was it? This should generally be the first item in the lead.

WHO? It is important to include the name of the person (preferably) or at least identify who they are (i.e., eight students…).

WHEN? Time is needed to understand the timeliness news element.

WHERE? Location is a key point in understanding a story, though it usually belongs at the end of a lead.

WHY? AND HOW? Usually, you should address one of these in your lead, though the other may be developed later in the story.


1. Look through the newspaper. Find a solid, old fashioned lead. What news elements are revealed?

2. Look at the photos. Choose one and fabricate the who, what, where, when, why/how. We will share some of our responses and create a "Mad Lib" lead…


(You may work with a partner for this assignment)

1. Using the photographs provided in class, pick one image and create the "facts" – the who, what, where, when, why, and how. Pretend that you were the photographers who took the photo and knew what was going on.

2. Now write the lead and the headline. Make sure you follow the rules of the lead. Reveal the most important facts first.

4. After you have the perfect lead in place, write the whole news story. Create mock quotes from mock people. Your news story should be about 150 words and each paragraph should be concise. REMEMBER: Report ONLY the fact, no opinion! Have fun and be creative!