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Narrative Leads

A lead is an invitation, a tease, bait. A lead is the net you cast out to catch your readers in an ocean of electronic distractions. The stronger and wider your lead, the more readers it will catch.

So far we have worked with straight-forward news leads, inverted pyramids and teasers. But I would now want you to start paying attention to a different type of opening: the narrative lead.

Narrative leads vary in length and form according to the length and style of your article, but their role is always the same: to establish the mood of your piece and to let the reader know what your story is about. Unlike inverted pyramids, narrative leads do not summarize your article. Instead of saving the reader from reading the full story, narrative leads push him/her deep into it.

Below I listed a few good examples of strong narrative leads curated by’s Chip Scanlan. Please read them and be ready to answer the next few questions in class:

1- Can you classify them by style or genre?

2- Which one is the most appealing to you and why?

3- How do you think you could produce a narrative lead for an audio/video story? Do multimedia narrative leads follow the same structural rules?

After taking a look at the examples, please read Bob Baker’s Six questions to ask yourself before you type that anecdotal lead and answer the following question:

4- What story you’ve written for our class so far that would have read better with a narrative lead?

Baker proposes a test to justify our use of the anecdotal lead. The “[…] basic test is: Does the anecdote actually represent the greater truth of the story?”

Here are the examples:


A waiter fond of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson attends morning prayers at his church, steps across the street and hijacks a school bus. Owing $15,639.39 in back taxes, wielding what he says is a bomb, Catalino Sang shields himself with disabled children.

Follow my orders, he says, or I will kill the kids. “No problem, I will,” says driver Alicia Chapman, crafty and calm. “But please don’t hurt the children.”

The saga of Dade County school bus No. CX-17, bound for Blue Lakes Elementary, begins.


“Terror Rides a School Bus” by Gail Epstein, Frances Robles and Martin Merzer
The Miami Herald, November 3, 1995


The past came to claim Aleksandras Lileikis this week. It knocked on his door on Sumner Street in Norwood, shattering his quiet present and shocking the friends and neighbors who thought they knew the man in the yellow house. It knocked on all of our doors, pointing to the genocide of more than 50 years, demanding that we hear the stories and seek the truth.


“A summons from history” by Susan Trausch
The Boston Globe, Sept. 23, 1994

JERUSALEM, Nov. 4—A right-wing Jewish extremist shot and killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin tonight as he departed a peace rally attended by more than 100,000 in Tel Aviv, throwing Israel’s government and the Middle East peace process into turmoil.


“Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is Killed” by Barton Gellman
The Washington Post, Sunday, November 5, 1995


Her weight’s gone up. Gray hairs have sprouted. She’s gotten used to flat shoes instead of heels and eggplant-shaped dresses instead of the gowns and furs she used to wear. But after a decade in prison for having her husband killed, Betty Lou Haber, closing in on 50, is still as polite and sweet sounding as ever.

“There’s never a night that I go to bed and don’t say my prayers,” she said last week. “I just do the best I can.”

And that’s why Albert Haber’s surviving children are worried.


“A murder story” by David Finkel
St.Petersburg Times, May 26, 1985


HAVANA—This is the moment when, in my dreams, I begin to cry. And yet, I’m strangely calm as I go up the stairs to the apartment of my childhood in Santos Suarez, the only place that, after all these years, I still refer to as la casa, home.


“A sentimental journey to la casa of childhood” by Mirta Ojito
The New York Times, Feb. 3, 1998


Karubamba, Rwanda—Nobody lives here anymore.

Not the expectant mothers huddled outside the maternity clinic, not the families squeezed into the church, not the man who lies rotting in a schoolroom beneath a chalkboard map of Africa.

Everybody here is dead. Karubamba is a vision from hell, a flesh-and-bone junkyard of human wreckage, an obscene slaughterhouse that has fallen silent save for the roaring buzz of flies the size of honeybees.


“Only Human Wreckage Is Left in Karubamba” by Mark Fritz
Associated Press, May 12, 1994


A healthy 17-year-old heart pumped the gift of life through 34-year-old Bruce Murray Friday, following a four-hour transplant operation that doctors said went without a hitch.


“It Fluttered and Became Bruce Murray’s Heart.” By Jonathan Bor
Syracuse Post-Standard, May 12, 1984


SAN QUENTIN—In the end, Robert Alton Harris seemed determined to go peacefully, a trait that had eluded him in the 39 violent and abusive years he spent on earth.


“After Life of Violence Harris Goes Peacefully” by Sam Stanton
The Sacramento Bee, April 22, 1992


At 12:30, my husband and I were having a pleasant lunch in a restaurant. At 1:30, we were back home, sitting at the kitchen counter planning a trip to Vienna and Budapest with cherished friends. At 2:30, I was walking out of the hospital emergency room in shock, a widow, my life changed forever, beyond comprehension.


“Facing the void of a life and a love lost in a moment” by Joan Beck
Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1993


Let’s talk about tattoos.


“Tattoos and freedom” by Michael Gartner
The (Ames, Iowa) Daily Tribune, Oct. 7, 1993


BELFAST, Northern Ireland—The specter of the Shankill Butchers, an infamous sectarian murder gang that ravaged Roman Catholic ghettos a decade ago, is rising again on the pitiless streets of North Belfast, where fear and grief are running heavy from fresh homicide raids.


“Communion, tenpence, and terror along the wall” by Francis X. Clines
The New York Times, May 27, 1988


MANILA, Ark.__It killed first, then it came into town.


“Tornado sneaks into Manila, killing 2 kids just as sirens wail” by Bartholomew Sullivan
The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, April 17, 1998


Hide the school-age children and call out the American Civil Liberties Union and the People for the American Way. The Bible is coming to television, right out in public where everyone can see and hear it__or, anyway, that version of it to be aired on Arts & Entertainment for four nights beginning Sunday (8-9 p.m., EST).


“The ‘good book’ on prime time by Dorothy Rabinowitz
The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 14, 1992


MOUNTOURSVILLE, Pa.__They knew them as the girl who spilled the fries in the car. Knew them as the boy who shot baskets and lighted the candles at church. Knew them as the girl who wrote poetry and played the piano.


“Small town grieves 21 dead” by Ken Moritsugu
Newsday, July 19, 1996


It was about 8:45 Thursday morning when I walked into the Hermosa Beach Police Department with two dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a 12-pack of Coors Light.


“A few Coors Lights might blur the truth” by Steve Lopez
Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2001


Interviewing Techniques

Interviewing is almost an art. And some people simply excel at it because they know how to engage their interviewees, making them feel comfortable and safe while asking the hardest questions.

Although the interview is a collaborative effort, you will immediately notice that this collaboration has its own rules. Even when sometimes both interviewer and interviewee can have a common goal, your agenda will usually differ from that of your interviewee. Thus, what you think was a great interview could also be the worst experience in your interviewee’s life.

Here are 13 interesting tips to conduct better interviews. The one I liked the most was number 13, endure awkward silences. Sometimes our questions will not be well received. But we still want the answer, right?


Uploading Your Audio to SoundCloud

Here I created a mini tutorial on how to upload your audio stories to SoundCloud, which is very, very easy. In the second part of this video you can see how to create the embedding code to use the audio file in WordPress.


On Ira Glass and Radio Lab

These two articles discuss some of the techniques and ideas that Ira Glass brought to the world of radio and some of the innovations that Glass himself can see in Radio Lab.

Please check out the first piece on Glass, listen to the two first profiles posted by Glass, and discuss what makes these profiles appealing, enjoyable and news worthy?


Tutorials on How to Use the JVC GY 100s

Here are a few tutorials on how to use our video cameras, generously created and posted by JVC Professional Europe

First video on the different components of the GY 100.

Part two, on how to format media and set the camera up

Part three, on how to charge, install and remove the battery. Setting recording format.

Part Four, on how to shoot in full auto.

Part Five, on shooting in manual.

Part Six, on exposure (iris, shutter, white balance and gain).

Part Seven, on manual exposure.

Part eight, on exposure in automatic AE +/-

Part nine, on how to customize the gain.

Part ten, on how to preset the white balance.

Part eleven, on how to use the zebra.

Part twelve, on how to capture better audio.

Part thirteen, on how to bring your files to your computer.

Creating an FTP Client Using Filezilla and Uploading Your Slideshow


here is my tutorial on how to create an FTP client to upload your slideshows to our server using Filezilla. Please make sure you upload your slideshows to the right folder.


Tips to Produce a Good Radio Story

1. Make your script as clear as you possibly can. What is the story about? How would you tell the same story to your mother, brother or your best friend?

2. Use your own words. You don’t need to sound affected . Use the PRESENT TENSE.

3. Tape your story in interesting places for a nice audio atmosphere. Always remember to record your background sound. These sounds will help you connect your clips and enhance your story.

4. Keep the clips short.

5. Try to feature different voices in your piece. Male and female voices, different accents from different places, and from people of different age.

6. Use music that fits your story. Be mindful of copyright.

7. If available use sound effects. A simple sound effect can go a long way. And you can get sound effects for free on several libraries online.

8. Finally, think carefully about your kicker.

For a few more tips go the BBC Radio, which has fantastic tips for voice overs. BBC has also a nice standard radio script template. Mia Carter’s Radio Journalism 101 also has great tips.

Radio Exercise

Please listen to these two pieces of radio journalism (A Very Lucky Wind and The Bippolo Seed) and and answer the following questions:

a- What are the structural elements in the story (narrator/interviewees/background sound/music)
b- What element makes the story move forward?
c- How does the reporter integrate his sources to the story?
d- What are the differences between these pure audio stories and the ones we watched last week by Barbara Davidson from the LA Times?

Working With Pro Tools: Creating a Radio Session, Importing Audio, Trimming, Fading and Crossfading

Here’s how I would suggest you create your first Pro Tools session to work on a radio project. Remember that for now we will not be using any effects but simple audio tracks.


And here you can see how to import an audio track to your Pro Tools session.

This video shows you how to trim an audio region and how to apply a fade.

This video will teach you how to create a crossfade.

This video will teach you how to deal with volume on separate tracks and on the master fader track.

Finally, this one will teach you how to bounce your project and export it as a wav or an MP3 file

Creating and Saving Black Slides to Use in Soundslides

For those of you who needed them, here are two tutorials on how to create the black slides for your slideshow projects. In the first tutorial I show you how to set up your title, byline and copyright slides.

In the second tutorial I show you how to save the slides so you can use them in your slideshow project.