A lede, usually used in feature stories, that can take several paragraphs to begin to tell a story, as opposed to hard-news ledes, which must summarize a story's main points in the first paragraph. Delayed ledes can use description, anecdotes, scene-setting or background information to pull the reader into the story.
How Delayed Ledes Work
A delayed lede, also called a feature lede, is used on feature stories and allows you to break free of the standard hard-news lede, which must have the who, what, where, when, why, and how and outline the main point of the story in the very first sentence. A delayed lede allows the writer to take a more creative approach by setting a scene, describing a person or place or telling a short story or anecdote.
If that sounds familiar, it should. A delayed lede is much like the opening of a short story or novel. Obviously, a reporter writing a feature story doesn't have the luxury of making things up the way a novelist does, but the idea is much the same: Create an opening to your story that will make the reader want to read more.
The length of a delayed lede varies depending on the kind of article and whether you are writing for a newspaper or magazine. Delayed ledes for newspaper feature articles generally last no more than three or four paragraphs, while ones in magazines can go on much longer. The delayed lede is generally followed by what's called the nutgraph, which is where the writer explains what the story is all about. In fact, that's where the delayed lede gets its name; instead of the main point of the story being outlined in the very first sentence, it comes several paragraphs later.
Here's an example of a delayed lede from the Philadelphia Inquirer:
After several days in solitary confinement, Mohamed Rifaey finally found relief in pain. He would wrap his head in a towel and whack it against the cinder-block wall. Over and over.
"I'm going to lose my mind," Rifaey recalls thinking. "I begged them: Charge me with something, with anything! Just let me out to be with people."
The illegal alien from Egypt, now finishing his fourth month in custody in York County, Pa., is among hundreds of people caught on the wrong side of the domestic war on terrorism.
In interviews with The Inquirer inside and out of jail, several men described long detentions on minimal or no charges, unusually stiff bond orders, and no allegations of terrorism. Their tales have worried civil libertarians and immigration advocates.
As you can see, the first two paragraphs of this story constitute the delayed lede. They describe the inmate's anguish without explicitly stating what the story is about. But in the third and fourth paragraphs, the angle of the story is made clear.
You can imagine how might have been written using a straight-news lede:
Civil libertarians say many illegal aliens have recently been jailed recently as part of the domestic war on terrorism, despite the fact that many have not been charged with any crime.
That certainly sums up the main point of the story, but of course, it's not nearly as compelling as the image of the inmate banging his head against the wall of his cell. That's why journalists use delayed ledes - to grab a reader's attention, and never let go.