IV. The Lead and the Title for News Writing

1) The Function of the Title and the Lead

The title of the news article is the spirit and essence of the article. A good title should convey the main point and significance of an article for readers. It is critical for readers to decide if they would like to keep reading on, so the basic requirement of a good title is to convey the main point. The wording must be concise and attractive to readers.

The lead is the first paragraph of the news article. It should be concise, outline the major points, give the rough story line and lay the foundation for the whole news article. Readers usually get to know the contents and nature of the news article based on the lead. Then they decide if they would like to continue reading. After reading the lead, if readers cannot figure out the main content and theme of the article, then the lead must be re-written. In the process of editing, the editors will often change the title or write a new title. If the editor has to write a title, he has to rely on the lead written by the reporter to grasp the main idea of the draft. If the editor cannot understand a lead properly or even has to help re-write the lead and draft, then the lead is not considered up to the standard or meet the requirements of basic news writing.

If you understand the above points, then it is not difficult to understand why the usual order of writing news articles is lead -> Body -> title (not the order for readers: title -> lead -> Body).

2) Issues that Needs Attention when Writing a Title

If the news article is not based on some clearly defined content as subject matter, the target audience is changing constantly, or too many issues are addressed in the article, then it means that there is no theme. It will then be difficult to have a good title. This kind of issue must be addressed; otherwise after reading it, the effect won't be good. If you really want to fix the news article, it is not enough to just fix the title. You must re-write the whole news item that underscores the theme and news' selling points, and then write a good title that will best convey the spirit of the news article.

Some practitioners could not think of proper titles for their articles, so they just use titles like "My Cultivation Experience", "The Story of My Being Persecuted", and "My Cultivation Path in the Fa-rectification Period" so that the readers will figure out the theme or summarize by themselves. This is not efficient and needs to be avoided. The purpose of writing articles is to validate Dafa and clarify the truth. If you cannot get the attention of readers, then you will not achieve the powerful effect of a Dafa disciple's article. If you can take a little more time, you can write as if you are facing a group of people who are waiting to learn the truth from your words. They are not like you. You are very familiar with many basic facts, including how force-feeding becomes a torture tactic and how painful that would be. To them, these are very far away and very hard for them to imagine. If you do it this way you can then fix and adjust the news article a bit; catch the readers' interest by using an effective title and transform your story of being persecuted into a sharp tool for eliminating evil. It can be turned into the illuminating light for learning the truth about Falun Gong and into the reason that the reader will relate to and be willing to support Falun Gong.

Some author-practitioners think that many readers (including many overseas practitioners) will not read that much of the section on the facts of persecution presented on the Clearwisdom website. They would write long titles, so that even if readers won't read the body, after glancing at the title they will know the basic facts. You can see how hard the writers are trying, but this won't solve the fundamental problem. This also won't encourage people who were not intending to read originally, to read. For those who would like to keep reading, what's lost is the quality of the writing. After all, what is undermined is the spreading of the truth.

In addition, the title's wording must avoid misunderstanding. If a title's wording indicates other meanings as opposed to what is intended, especially those that are contrary of the intended meanings, then it should be avoided. How the title sounds is also important. After you write the title, you should read it out loud. It will be easier to spot potential problems and misunderstandings in this way.

3) Issues that Need Attention when Writing the lead

You only need about 3 sentences for a lead. You should write the most important information first, describe the major points concisely, and then outline the event. Sometimes in order to better get your information across, you don't have to stick to the usual pattern of news writing (a cookie-cutter writing style sometimes could lead to superficiality and rigidity in expressing your meaning), but you still need to pay attention to the basic rule - write the most important information first, describe concisely the major points of the news, then describe the outline of the event.

A good example in such a case would be a news article titled "Precedents for U.S. Companies Being Held Accountable For Human Rights Violations Committed Abroad". The first paragraph was written like this: "Recently, the U.S. cosmetics company Mary Kay Inc, based in Dallas, drew international attention for their Shenzhen China branch requiring their employees to sign a declaration to "not practice Falun Gong or promote Falun Gong." This is a clear violation of human rights. After reading several Clearwisdom.net articles, we felt compelled to bring up several court precedents of U.S. companies being held accountable for human rights violations committed abroad."

This pattern of writing is good enough to express the major news points and the tone is mild. If necessary, it could be tightened up to present a more unified and clear message. For instance, it could be written in this way: "There are many judgments, where U.S. companies have been held responsible for their illegal activities overseas. A review of those cases was triggered by the case of the U.S. cosmetics company Mary Kay Inc. The China subdivision of Mary Kay Inc has drawn attention overseas due to its human rights violations on the issue of Falun Gong lately." These two versions each has its own merit.

In the article entitled "Chengdu Dafa Disciple Jiang Qian Illegally Sentenced to 4-Year Jail Term", the first paragraph was written this way: "On May 7, 2001 Chengdu Dafa Disciple Jiang Qian and two fellow disciples went out to protect the Fa and put up banners reading "Falun Dafa is Good" to show their support of Falun Gong. On the same day evening, a local resident reported all three of them to the Wenjiang Public Security Bureau and the West City Police Station, and consequently they were all arrested. Their flyers and slogan posters were all confiscated. They were handcuffed and escorted to Wenjiang Public Security Bureau Detention Center for vicious interrogation and their names and addresses were recorded. At 2 a.m. the next morning, Jiang Qian was handcuffed and escorted back home. A dozen police agents were searching his home and ordered his family members to turn in his Falun Dafa books. The agents were furious. They escorted Jiang Qian back to the Public Security Bureau Detention Center for 2 days. Then he was sent to a jailhouse directly." According to the basic requirements of a lead paragraph, this is not a concise lead, so one needs to be added.

Almost every day you can read case reports about Falun Dafa disciples tortured to death in China. If a lead reads like "Chongqing Dafa disciple Zhou Liangzhu, female, 60, engineer, was arrested twice and detained in the Maojiashan Women's Labor Camp because she kept exposing the evil persecution and clarifying the truth. She was transferred back and forth between the prison and the brainwashing classes, and was tortured severely. She died at her home on October 17, 2003." This lead did not target the essence of the news. After you read the title "Chongqing Dafa Disciple Zhou Liangzhu Tortured to Death", what a reader most needs is not "Chongqing Dafa Disciple Zhou Liangzhu, female, 60, engineer", as it has no critical information, nor does it convey any crucial points. If we rewrite the original lead, it could be something like: "Zhou Liangzhu, Chongqing engineer in her 60's, was tortured and hounded to death because she exposed the facts of the persecution of Falun Gong. Ms. Zhou was detained and tortured at the Maojiasan Women's Labor Camp, the local prison and brainwashing classes prior to her death."

In fact, if you have a draft on hand to be fixed, you need to read the whole article, and then you will have a better way of rewriting the news draft. After you've fixed the lead, which means you have laid a new foundation for the article, you may adjust the contents of the body accordingly. There are usually two ways to do this: the first way is by the order of the importance of the news; the most important first, the less important second, the least important and additional materials last. The second way is to narrate in chronological order. Be careful not to comment or involve personal feelings while narrating, as news writing should be as objective as possible. If you feel you have something important to say, even though it may not be a news worthy element, you can still write up a concise, independent paragraph, and then see to it that it fits well with the context of the whole article.

By the way, I'd like to stress one point. As people reporting news for a Falun Dafa website, we should remember the principle of "Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance" by heart all the time. We should hold ourselves to this standard. We must treat those who don't know about the truth of Falun Gong differently from the evil beings. We need to keep calm and avoid judging people at all times. Otherwise, that is not the manifestation of compassion, but the opposite of the path of a Falun Dafa disciple validating the Fa. Before we start rewriting, we must be clear on this point.

[To be continued]

For Parts 1 and 2, please see