Lede all about it: Understand the news cycle to perfect your lede

Lede all about it: Understand the news cycle to perfect your lede

A lede — the opening hook of an oped — can make or break a piece’s chances for a top placement. Editors demand timely ledes — but there’s no set standard on what’s timely and what isn’t.

Understanding the news cycle can help writers make that determination and adjust their ledes accordingly.

It takes many hours or even days to write and fine-tune an oped fit for publication in the likes of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. So opeds naturally lag behind front page reporting by several days or even a few weeks.

For oped editors, that’s “timely” enough, and ledes referring directly to the event in question will enjoy success.

It’s no cause for concern if months or even years have passed since a pivotal event and countless other writers have already offered their opinions on the topic. To stand out from the crowd, a writer just needs to find a way to make the topic timely and relevant.

Perhaps the best way to do this is to highlight a recent development related to the larger issue.

For example, space exploration may be an important topic, but it’s hardly novel. A cheeky lede pegged to Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens could be just the timely, intriguing hook editors are looking for.

Likewise, education reform is a perennial topic. An oped stands a much better chance of placement if it opens with a lede tied to a brand new study that ranks Americans’ test scores in comparison to those of students in other advanced economies.

Such a lede paves the way to a broader discussion about the need for reform, but does so in a way that makes the issue seem timely, even pressing.

In short, ledes must almost always be timely. By understanding the news cycle, writers can judge whether a lede directly referencing a recent event is sufficient — or if they need to find a more creative way of making an old topic relevant.

Colin Valentine