(download 3-page PDF of How to write leads)
One of my favorite leads read like this:
When the woman patient jumped off the examining table and, half-naked, ran down the sidewalk in Coral Springs, the state of Florida figured it had better do something about the doctor from Connecticut.
The lead appeared at the top of one of my stories when I worked at the Miami Herald. I wish I had written it. The author was the late Gene Miller, an investigative reporter and editor who had two Pulitzer Prizes under his belt.
Miller was a legendary figure, especially for young reporters working in outlying bureaus. What I knew about Miller was that 1) he liked to go swimming on his lunch break and 2) he had a plum job. He had freedom and independence. He evidently scanned the story budget and picked out pieces that he wanted to edit. We bureau rats knew the drill. When Miller took control of a story, he transformed it, sometimes even rewrote it. He “Miller-ized” stories. That’s what we called it.
I remember sitting next to him while he took apart one story, and then watching him put it back together again.
I weakly protested some of his edits. But this was all done in a rush, on deadline, and Miller didn’t give lengthy explanations for his handiwork. But I do remember him saying at one point, simply:
My way is better.