I have a friend and colleague who often comments on my stories. Usually he says nice things. But today he had criticism.
It started with a question.
“When is a news story to be written as a straightforward news story,” he asked, “and when should a news story be turned into a news feature? Is there a threshold?”
I wish I knew the answer to this, and I told him so. Then I realized he was talking about this story:
Just after 1 p.m., on the last day of spring, a white sun glared over Janice Cook’s pool. Swimming conditions neared perfection. But the children stayed inside, and the water looked like blue glass.
Cook had mortgaged her house to pay for this pool. Now she could not look at it. She wanted to tear it apart and haul it away. She wanted Raiden back.
He was her grandson, 2 years old, blond hair, green eyes, heart-shaped birthmark on his hip. He was found in the pool on Monday afternoon, floating face down.
This is what my friend said about it:
“Today’s lede bothered me. If a child drowned in a pool, I wanna know that pretty soon. Tell how the grandmother can’t stand to look at the pool in the eighth graf.”
Now I bring this question to the Gangrey jury, because I think it gets to the heart of the tension between story and information, to the heart of why newspapers are here.
Specifically: Was this the right lede for a story about a child’s drowning? Why or why not? How could/should it have been different?
Generally: How earth-shattering must a story be to force narrative-happy writers like ourselves into a straight lede? Do we use them too often? Not often enough?
Can the arc and the pyramid love each other?