Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Burying the lede

In newspaper jargon, the "lede" is the key element of a story. ..the hook. Generally, the lede should lead. When it's doesn't, one speaks of "burying the lede." Sometimes this is done for affect, though rarely in hard news. If the lede is buried in a hard news piece, either it's the result of incompetence or there is an agenda at work.

Last Thursday, the Capital-Journal ran an Associated Press wire story under the headline, "Board to consider abstinence ed." Here's the lede:

"Having told school districts they must get written permission from parents before enrolling children in sex education classes, the Kansas State Board of Education soon will consider requiring abstinence-only courses."

A headline should be a reflection of the lede, and as you see, in this instance, it is. But there's a problem. The abstinence education angle, while certainly a story, is not the story. The story is that the Kansas State Board of Education moved from having student participation in sex education curriculum from something that parents can opt their children out of, to something parents must opt their children into.

Why, you ask, is this significant? I'd hoped you would. Let me lay out some of my o-fact-ions for you.

  1. People are lazy (or busy or confused or for whatever reasons, prone to being disengaged). As a result when something requires active engagement in order to proceed, a lot of time...it will not proceed.

  2. Most people are willfully ignorant and in denial about things for which they have deeply held but unsupported views. They will believe what they wish to be true, to be true, in spite of any evidence to the contrary.

  3. Sex education leads to promiscuity and its consequences in precisely the same manner that driver education leads to reckless driving and it's consequences.

That's why this matters. That's the significance of the legislature's action. And that's the reason I'm concerned about the Capital-Journal burying the lede. Who's agenda was being served?

My searches of news.google.com for this very AP story turned up four instances of the abstinence-ed lede and 118 instances of the piece with the focus on opt-in/opt-out. I intend to gather more information from John Hanna, the author of the story about the story he filed and how it diverges from the story as presented by the Capital-Journal.

It is not inherently inappropriate for a newspaper to edit wire copy but bad journalism can come from the how and why of it.



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