Wayne Rooney holiday. Cheryl Cole tights.
October 28, 2010 5 Comments
This blog will get you a job in journalism. I am so sorry, that was a lie, but I hope that the opening line at least made you read as far as this sentence and therefore allows me to introduce my latest hack topic – being able to write a good introduction.
In learning how to become 21st century journalists we are being taught all the latest tricks of the trade, about social media, blogging blah, blah, blah. Despite all that new fangled crazy stuff some things never change and one of those things is the need for a good introduction. Capture the reader’s attention, get them interested in the first five words, write it as you would tell someone in the street, these are the kind of hints and tips which we young journo whipper snappers must remember everyday. But it isn’t really as simple as that is it?
How the hell do I make that sound worth a read?
My first week of work experience over the summer was at the Birmingham Mail and having been reasonably successful with the first ‘main article’ (ie not an NIB) I was given to write I was feeling pretty confident. This first article I had published was about a one-in-a-billion giant red lobster. Plenty of opportunities for a punchy intro there, I could never avert my eyes from a piece which was going to tell me about a freakishly large crustacean. Looking back now I think I could have done better. Anyway, then the news editor asked for something about some local scientists and their research into marketing and advertising influence.
Confident as I was, I filed the copy pretty quickly only to have it sent back telling me, in a rather polite way, that it was cack, boring and wouldn’t be read past the first four words. Bemused at the outrageous suggestion that I might not have got something right I re-read my copy. It opened… ‘Two local scientists…‘ and – I’ll be honest – I even stopped reading. It was boring. I was boring.
“When you spoke to the scientists did they say anything about celebs?” the news editor asked, “try and get them to mention some celebs because that will make for a good headline and a picture.” After a looong phone call I hit the jackpot, poor Mr local scientist said the name Cheryl Cole and I had my point of interest. The article, about two local scientists and their work which was to be showcased at the British Science Festival, appeared in the Birmingham Mail with a large picture of Cheryl herself, the headline ‘Cheryl makes us spend – but how?’ and my introduction read something along the lines of…‘Celebrities such as Cheryl Cole have…’
All these factors may well have suggested a very different focal point but I bet far more people read the article.
Not just about the intro now
Bringing this theme into the realm of the new-fangled crazy stuff I referenced before, we aspiring hacks are now taught about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and the need for your blog titles to tick all the boxes in terms of generating traffic to your site. Do I want to put a slightly quirky title to my blog post with a hidden private joke that about 4 of my friends will get? No. If you are blogging about Wayne Rooney and his wages that goes in the title. No questions asked. Look at the title of this post; some poor sods looking for the latest gossip on Wayne’s holiday or Cheryl’s choice of hosiery may well have landed on this dear site. (If you’re still with us for whatever reason, hello, nice to meet you, if you really want to know, I think Wayne should enjoy his hols whilst he can and that Chezza’s tights were lovely!)
Make them think it is worth reading
The point is that in an age where we can all write about anything and everything there is now more and more pressure on our writing to stand out from the crowd. An easy way to do that is with a good introduction. Make them laugh, get them hooked, promise them something; whatever you do you must make them want to keep reading because otherwise you might as well get your coat and not bother writing the other couple of hundred words for the rest of the article. It doesn’t matter whether the article is about Wayne Rooney, Lobsters or Scientists (now THAT sounds like an intro) there is always a way to write a punchy introduction. This post may not get you a job in journalism (if it does can you let me know? That’d be quite an accolade) but I hope that you kept reading and that it might have ended up giving you some food for thought on the skill of writing a good introduction, because if we do manage to get jobs it is a skill which is absolutely necessary.
Got any intro tips?
What is the best introduction to an article you have ever read?
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