Ledes, Focus and Journalistic Values

Analyze and write ledes, explore how focus may change a feature story and consider the journalist's role in maintaining the freedoms of press and speech through the suggested activities and reprinted Post pieces in this month’s guide. 
Download Classroom Worksheets (PDF) 

Don’t begin with a question. Avoid quotations in ledes. Use humor, lists and allusion sparingly in ledes. Always begin news articles with the 5 Ws and H.


Have you be given this advice to inform your writing of journalistic pieces? Don’t throw the guidelines away, but know that every approach to lede writing has its reason to be used. This guide provides many ledes to illustrate the use of variety ledes (in KidsPost stories and articles from varied sections of The Washington Post). Guidelines and exercises and Teachers Notes help teachers to improve students’ reading, writing and comprehension of nonfiction.


Another area of journalistic writing involves finding the focus for feature stories. When The Post sends a team to cover hurricanes, forest fires or county fairs, editors expect a variety of photographs, news, feature and opinion pieces. Feature writers may be within a mile of each other and find a different focus for their human-interest pieces as well as ways to begin their works. Teachers are provided one long piece to analyze and to use to stimulate student writing; additional works are suggested in the second sidebar.


Balanced reporting includes sensitivity to victims in times of disaster reporting as well as covering multiple points of view of complicated issues. Post media reporter Paul Farhi and columnist Margaret Sullivan provide examples to stimulate lively discussion (and we suggest discussion questions and activities) of real events.



September 2017

Doing Journalism
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Review Ledes
English, Journalism, Media Arts

Lede writing is an essential composition skill. Teachers Notes this month gives teachers ideas and the resources to analyze, discuss and encourage student writing of ledes. See the introduction to "More Than One Way to Lede" for a definition of “lede” and the reason for using lede, rather than lead, for spelling.


Teachers could begin with a review of the types of ledes used. This will be helpful for the activities that involve analyzing, selecting and writing ledes. Examples of the variety of ledes can be found in Pull Readers Into the Article with a Lede, and Take the Lede in the Columns of Thought guide.


The second part of Teachers Notes provides the resources needed to supplement the lede activities. To locate the entire article using the e-Replica format, teachers need the headline, date and page reference. To locate the article on washingtonpost.com, teachers are provided the URL.


Study News Ledes
English, Government, Journalism, Media Arts, Physical Education, Reading

The traditional (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) lede conveys news quickly and precisely. Begin by giving students, in pairs or small groups, five news ledes. Ask them to identify the 5Ws and H of each lede. Students share what they have selected for the 5Ws and H. If there is disagreement, students should explain why they made their selections.

Next, teachers might have students find examples of the traditional news lede in the A section of the print and e-Replica editions or online.  Discuss how this type of lede and the headline act together to summarize the news in the article.


Identify Variety Ledes
English, Journalism, Media Arts, Media Literacy, Physical Education

The variety of other approaches to lede writing may be grouped under the umbrella term “delayed.” The delayed lede — when the reader is waiting to learn the 5Ws and H — takes many forms. Rhetorical techniques may be utilized. A part of speech may be emphasized. Historic perspective, humor or a summary of background can assist a reader’s understanding of an issue or event.


Give students KidsPost Ledes. These are the beginning paragraphs of six KidsPost articles. Discussion would include:

• What type of lede is used?

• Discuss the information given in the first, first plus second, first three paragraphs of the article. What do students know after reading these paragraphs?

• Is the lede useful in understanding the topic?

• After reading these ledes what additional information would they like?


In addition to the six ledes from KidsPost, nine ledes from Washington Post articles found in different sections of the newspaper are provided. Give students From the Beginning. Teachers will note that eight of nine articles have datelines. Datelines are full disclosure of where the reporter was when writing. What does being an eyewitness or conducting interviews in person add to credibility? Why does The Post invest in sending reporters and photographers to news locations?


Expand Study of Ledes
English, Government, Journalism, Media Arts, Physical Education

Teachers Notes provides suggestions for reading the entire articles after studying the ledes. See Teachers Notes also for the information needed to locate each article online or in e-Replica format.


In addition to the first paragraphs of KidsPost and articles in recent Post articles, teachers (especially in Comparative Government and Government classes), could use the excerpts from Anthony Shadid’s coverage of the Iraq war and first elections in 50 years. Shadid was recipient of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. See “Shadid: Dateline Iraq.”  

A collection of sports ledes are available to review the traditional, delayed, descriptive and narrative ledes. These are found in “Take the Lede” in Sports — In Word and Image

News and Feature Articles
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The Washington Post’s Legacy
English, Government, Journalism, Media Arts

As the 100th birthday of Katharine Graham is remembered, Post publisher and chief executive Frederick Ryan Jr. reflects on her contribution to The Washington Post and to journalistic values. We hope “Katharine Graham’s Legacy: Fearlessness” will be helpful to acquaint teachers with quick highlights of The Post’s history from Eugene Meyer to Jeff Bezos.


While students may not need the history of The Post, they would do well to learn of the importance of maintaining an independent press and of the press’s role as watchdog of the rich and powerful. Why were freedom of speech and freedom of the press included in the First Amendment? What do students expect of today’s media?


Teachers may find “Katharine Graham at 100: Inside the making of one of the greatest Washington memoirs ever” another interesting resource. Teachers who teach memoir writing might add this to their students’ reading list.



Write Tips for Interviews
English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

The Post’s media reporter Paul Farhi takes a close look at a CNN interview that took place in a shelter after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.


Read “After a CNN interviewee erupts in anger, disaster reporting standards come into focus.” 


Teachers are provided Faces, Microphones and Disaster Reporting’s Risk to use with Farhi’s analysis. More than discussion questions, this activity uses the Flores’ interview as a case study to consider the handling of interviews in times of disaster.


Read and Analyze
English, Geography, Government, Journalism, Media Arts, Reading

The second sidebar in this guide provides links to Washington Post longer news articles and feature stories. Teachers might want to clarify the distinction between news and feature articles. Feature articles are human-interest pieces which may or may not have a news peg. Feature writers may employ shading, irony, parody, allusion and other literary devices more associated with fiction, but they are always true stories.


Teachers can assign each of the suggested works to groups of students to read and to analyze the writer’s craft and decisions. This would include:

• Locate the WHERE of the article on a map. What do students know about this country or area?

• What does the headline (and subhead) communicate to students?

• What kind of lede does the reporter use? How does it indicate what to expect in the rest of the piece?

• In what ways do informational graphics and photographs enhance the verbal content?

For additional questions, give students the handout “Guidelines: When Reading a Feature Article.” 


Compare and Contrast
English, Government, Journalism, Media Arts, Physical Education, Reading

Features that are suggested in the second sidebar could be paired to compare and contrast the author’s choices, the focus taken, different aspects of an issue or reflections on culture. Here are some possible combinations.


1. “The chosen” (Ayan Abdi is one of 5,000 refugees at a Kenya camp vying for a scholarship – and a new life in Canada. Will she earn her way out?) and “Inside the world’s largest refugee camp, one man’s quest to explain Donald Trump to those now banned from America” are written by the same Post reporter. Kevin Sieff found both stories in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya. These might be paired to compare and contrast the people and place readers get to know.


2. “Thurgood Marshall asked an ex-Klan member to help him make Supreme Court history” and “Whether she’s on the $20 bill or not, Harriet Tubman made men pay for underestimating her” were both written by Post award-winning staff writer DeNeen Brown. Both cover aspects of American culture, one historic and one contemporary. They may be paired to discuss the role of individuals in changing and confronting different racial points of view.


The day President Reagan comforted a black family who had a KKK cross burned on its lawn,” also written by DeNeen L. Brown, may be added to the comparison and contrast of government leaders’ role in affecting change, racial dynamics in American society and symbols and symbolic gestures.


3. “The making of Colin Kaepernick” and “Hope for deported Maryland brothers: Scholarships at U.S. university in Nicaragua” are both sports features. Both deal with choices of the individual and society’s response. Both address rights, including freedom of speech. What background is needed to fully comprehend the individual’s choice, the reaction of leaders, the focus of the reporter?

Read About Journalistic Writing

Closely Read a Feature
English, Government, Journalism, Media Arts, Reading, U.S. History

Stephanie McCrummen and photojournalist Matt McClain set their rich tale of a daughter’s search for connection with her Trump-loving family inside a county fair concession stand in rural Missouri. “The Homecoming” is an unusually long feature for today’s aversion to long-form journalism. The writer’s skill and the photographer’s eye hold readers’ interest.


Teachers are provided two reproducibles to encourage use of this feature to study the decisions a feature writer makes and the working together of the elements in a writer’s toolbox to take readers to a setting that may be unfamiliar to them and to create the emotional tension within a family and small community.
Emily and the Clark County Fair highlights the writer’s tools with questions to guide reading.
YOUR TURN: Experiment with Focus and Theme provides questions for closer reading of the feature and suggested composition activities

Allow Everyone to Speak?
English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy, U.S. History

In “To fight bigotry and hate, don’t muzzle it. There’s a better way,” Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan takes a serious look at freedom of speech.


Give Voice to Both Sides? can be used to check students’ reading of the column as well as to guide discussion. Students should be encouraged to share their short statements.


Teachers might use this opinion piece to discuss with students the value of having controversial speakers on campus, particularly those who have elicited violent protests. Why is it a good idea? Why is it a bad idea? Who should decide if they come? Does venue matter? For example, would having a guest speaker for a high-school assembly be different than inviting a guest speaker on a college campus? This would provide an opportunity to present concepts of a “captive audience” (Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser) and marketplace of ideas.


Conduct a Man-in-the-Street QandA
Broadcast, English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy

Read “To fight bigotry and hate, don’t muzzle it. There’s a better way,” by Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan. Discuss concepts of freedom of speech presented by different sources as well as the columnist’s point of view.


Teachers might also use this piece for students, in four to six groups, to craft open-ended man-in-the-street questions, one per group. Each group asks classmates the question to see if it is clear and elicits more than a yes or no response. Group members will also get practice in recording and tabulating responses.


Consider a Sports Profile and Freedom of Speech
English, Government, Journalism, Media Literacy, Physical Education

Consider using “The making of Colin Kaepernick,” a sports section feature article that is sure to yield discussion of freedom of speech and its repercussions. This may be combined with Margaret Sullivan’s column “To fight bigotry and hate, don’t muzzle it. There’s a better way.


Post staff writer Steve Hendrix wrote: Kent Babb produced a tremendously compelling profile of one of pro football’s most intriguing figures: Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback who has been effectively excommunicated from his sport because of his on-field protests of police violence against African Americans.


Babb said this was a particularly difficult story to report and “probably the most political sports issue of my lifetime.” Sources were polarized. Some refused to talk to Babb at all, and those who would participate approached the interviews with caution. “A lot of the sources had almost as many questions for me as I did for them,” Babb said. “’What’s your bias?’” one guy asked me before agreeing to talk, though I think he meant my angle."


Babb continued, “It was a weird one, and I just tried to write it with as much nuance as possible to show that this is a figure who people feel incredibly strongly about one way or another. And that is a little bit of a new phenomenon in sports.”



Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter


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In The Know 

Angle Aspect of a story which a journalist chooses to highlight and develop. Usually the most newsworthy of its key points.

Basic journalism principle of giving both sides of an argument in a fair way so readers or listeners can make up their own minds.


First Amendment

First amendment to the U.S. Constitution; in its 45 words five rights (freedom of religion, speech, press, peaceable assembly and petition for a redress of grievances) are enunciated and protected. The five freedoms are the cornerstone of American democracy.


Main emphasis; concept presented through observation, interview and research

Freedom of Press

Right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to gather, publish, and distribute information and ideas without government restriction; right includes freedom from prior restraint on publication and from censorship


The first sentence, paragraph or short portion at the beginning of a journalistic piece


To interpret or present in line with a special interest; such as slant a story toward an older or younger audience or readership

Verification Act or process of confirming or checking the accuracy of; the state of being confirmed or having the accuracy checked 


Give Voice to Both Sides?

1. Freedom of religious practice, speech, press, assembly and petition the government for a redress of grievances; 2. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) found that public school students do have freedom of speech. They do not leave their rights at the schoolhouse gate. There are some limits on this speech, per Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) and Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser (1987); 3. Allow speech; 4. Answers will vary; 5. Answers will vary; 6. Student responses will vary; 7. (a) n, (b) q, (c) p, (d) m, (e) o; 8. Student responses will vary. 9-10. For full two points, be sure students include a quotation from the column that assists in the argument being made.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at http://osse.dc.gov/service/dc-educational-standards.

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English. The student will use after-reading strategies appropriate to both the text and purpose for reading by summarizing, comparing, contrasting, synthesizing, drawing conclusions, and validating the purpose for reading.

Assessment limits:

• Summarizing, comparing, contrasting, and synthesizing significant ideas in a text

• Summarizing or synthesizing significant ideas across texts and drawing conclusions based on the information in more than one text

• Drawing conclusions based upon information from the text

• Confirming the usefulness or purpose for reading the text

• Predicting the development, topics, or ideas that might logically be included if the text were extended

 (Goal 1, Reading, Reviewing and Responding to Texts, Indicator 1.1.3)


English. The student will explain and give evidence to support perceptions about print and non-print works. (Goal 1, Expectation 1.3.1)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at http://mdk12.org/assessments/standards/9-12.html 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

English, Reading. The student will read, interpret, analyze, and evaluate nonfiction texts.

a)   Analyze text features and organizational patterns to evaluate the meaning of texts.

b)   Recognize an author’s intended audience and purpose for writing.

c)   Skim materials to develop an overview and locate information.

d)   Compare and contrast informational texts for intent and content.

e)   Interpret and use data and information in maps, charts, graphs, timelines, tables, and diagrams.

f)   Draw conclusions and make inferences on explicit and implied information using textual support as evidence.

g)   Analyze and synthesize information in order to solve problems, answer questions, and generate new knowledge.

h)   Analyze ideas within and between selections providing textual evidence.

i)    Summarize, paraphrase, and synthesize ideas, while maintaining meaning and a logical sequence of events, within and between texts. 

j)    Use reading strategies throughout the reading process to monitor comprehension. (10.5)


English, Reading. The student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of nonfiction texts.

a)  Skim materials using text features including type, headings, and graphics to predict and categorize information.

b) Identify an author’s organizational pattern using textual clues, such as transitional words and phrases. 

c)  Make inferences and draw logical conclusions using explicit and implied textual evidence. 

d) Differentiate between fact and opinion.    

e)  Identify the source, viewpoint, and purpose of texts.      

f)  Describe how word choice and language structure convey an author’s viewpoint.

g)  Identify the main idea.

h) Summarize text identifying supporting details.

i)  Create an objective summary including main idea and supporting details.

j)  Identify cause and effect relationships.

k) Organize and synthesize information for use in written and other formats.

l)  Analyze ideas within and between selections providing textual evidence.

m) Use reading strategies to monitor comprehension throughout the reading process.




Academic Content Standards may be found at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml.

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12. 5)


English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12. 7)


English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12. 6)


English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI. 9-10. 3)



Common Core standards may be found at www.corestandards.org.