Question from the e-mail: I've been stringing for the local newspaper, as you suggested and it's been going well so far. At least they pay me promptly and run everything I give them, but...the editor says my "leads are weak." Any idea how I can write stronger ones?
Answer: The lead is designed to catch the interest of the readers while filling them in on who? where? when? etc. If the lead has enough of a "catch" you can put the who, when and where elements in the second paragraph. Humor is good. You can get a bit whimsical with them, but never snide, or sarcastic.
For instance, if you were assigned to cover the local flower show held last Sunday, April 1, a simple lead might be: "The Green Thumbs Garden Club sponsored the flower show held under a bright spring sun after services last Sunday at St. Paul's United Methodist Church Parking lot." This lead will explain what the article is about and will gratify each and every member of the Green Thumbs And St. Pauls. It might be a good lead in your town, especially if the members are many and socially prominent. You would accompany it with digital color photos as well.
The article would then go on to describe the many plants, mention that starter plants had been for sale as a fundraiser for the community garden at the Senior Apartment complex, and list the winners in each division's competition, making sure their names were spelled correctly and connecting them where appropriate to well-known local people. Local subscribers love to see their names or the names of people they know in the paper in good contexts.
"Marjorie Pollen, the wife of our popular Mayor Herbert Pollen, won first prize in the table center piece division for her arrangement of honeysuckle and daffodils."
This is a feature piece, for color. Remember it's not "hard news."
Other possible leads might be Spring Bloomed Brightly on Easter Sunday. Or Green Thumbs-Up for Easter! Either of those would catch the eye of readers and the original lead would become paragraph two.
My all time best lead was, "Carl Tauber died three times on Christmas Eve and lived to tell about it." The second paragraph explained how the newly-implemented, city-based paramedic service had saved his life and went on to point out how lucky he was he didn't live 500 yards down the street in the county, where he'd have died once and stayed dead.