How The Daily’s David Knowles came up with the ‘Best. Lede. Ever.’

Romenesko Misc. | The Daily
He coulda been a credenza. That lede on David Knowles’ piece about the estate of Marlon Brando suing a retailer over its “Brando” furniture line has gone viral. “I’ve been pretty surprised by the reaction,” Knowles tells me. “Right away, I heard back from a few editors at the Daily. Messages like “Best. Lede. Ever.” Great to have that kind of encouragement from the people one works with.” On Thursday – the day after the story ran – there were plaudits in his inbox and on his Facebook page, some from Daily colleagues, and a few from old friends. Knowles writes in an email:

By mid-day we saw that journalists and professors were re-tweeting it, and then knew that we should try to push it a bit further in the social media sphere. As far as I know there are no awards for best lede, but Jebediah Reed (at the Daily) nominated it for that category. FARK ended up picking up the story yesterday, and I’m still seeing tweets and getting e-mail about it. Essentially, I think it worked because it made people laugh and distilled the essence of the dust up between a film icon and a furniture company.

The idea for it came as Mike Nizza (the Daily’s Managing Editor) and I were joking around via IM. We often do that when discussing discussing how to attack a story. We were sending potential hashtags about the piece back and forth. Can’t remember them all, but one was #Kurtzsectionals, and then I typed #icouldabeenacredenza. That got a laugh, but he didn’t say, Yes, that’s the lede! Cracking jokes in a lede is a tricky matter, especially when there’s a serious matter you’re covering (even a lawsuit), but I decided to go for it in this case.

What’s your second best lede? I asked. “I don’t know. I’ve written 2-3 pieces per day for about 5 years now, and none of the ledes have ever garnered this much response. Probably, I’ll end up putting it on my tombstone: Here lies the man who wrote the lede “He coulda been a credenza.”

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  • Anonymous

    Then we’re in agreement. Sorry I misunderstood. My favorite all-time hed was “It’s time to stash Ogden Nash.”  Anyone familiar with his humor and writing would have loved it, as would he.  I can imagine all the people that were taken aghast at reading it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1353411370 Bradley K. Martin

    Another nominee: “Heads rolled in the streets of Beijing last night,” by the late William Montalbano when he was Beijing bureau chief for the Miami Herald in 1980 or ’81. Bill’s story described the annual cabbage harvest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=583458310 Ron Hayes

    I agree, sargeh. My criticism was aimed at the editors who kill a great lede because they underestimate readers.

  • http://tommangan.net/ Tom Mangan

    Humor. Lede. Requires. Humor. Story.

  • Anonymous

    THIS IS KEY GIVE AWAY THIS WAS PURE TRAFFIC PR DRIVER bS – RE — ”By mid-day we saw that journalists and professors were re-tweeting it, and then knew that we should try to push it a bit further in the social media sphere. ”…. THE SOCIAL MEDIA SUCKS…. YOU ALL HAVE BEEN HAD BY YR GADGETS SAYS DANNY THE LIDDIE IN TAIWAN

  • Anonymous

    i am in taiwan since 1991 and i still speak english and i don’t have any idea what a credenza is…and i agree, much ado about nada….clever and cute, yes, but BEST. EVER.?. – nevah!

  • Anonymous

    This is the type of lede that used to be routine at the Philadelphia Daily News — you’d see two to three ledes at least as good if not better every day. The fact that people would actually think this lead is exceptional shows how far the Twitter age has reduced wit in journalism.

  • Anonymous

    “It was a dark and stormy night….”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    I know there’s only one perpetually angry occasional commenter here who is aware of all Internet traditions, but c’mon. “Best. (Blank). Ever” doesn’t literally mean the thing in question is the best example ever of that thing. It’s purposeful hyperbole. This particular Internet tradition started (or at least reached critical mass) with self-styled Internet critics of the Simpsons, who about 12 years ago would pronounce each week’s show “Worst. Episode. Ever.” This was taken up by the show’s writers, who put the words into (of course) Comic Book Guy’s mouth, and it took off in earnest from there.

    I would think that members of the Anonymous Internet Commenter Community (and their slightly more courageous Revealed Identity brethren)  would know the history of their own people a little better. After all, when the rest of us read your stuff, Comic Book Guy is precisely who we picture writing it. 

  • http://newsdex.net/taylor/ Chuck Taylor

    Best lede ever? You’ve got to be kidding.

  • Ken Dilanian

    Sorry, the best lede ever still belongs to Richard Ben Cramer, Philadelphia Inquirer front page, May 8, 1981.
     
    BELFAST, Northern Ireland – In a grimy gray drizzle, under ragged black flags that lifted and waved balefully in the fitful air; to the wail of a single piper, on streets winding through charred and blasted brick spray- painted with slogans of hate; by silent tens of thousands, past fathers holding sons face-forward that they might remember the day, past mothers rocking and shielding prams that held tomorrow’s fighters, past old men who blew their rheumy noses and remembered their own days of rage . . . Bobby Sands was carried yesterday to a grave of raw Ulster mud.”

  • Anonymous

    It’s a good lede. But — best ever? C’mon.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s great.  I’m sure a large number of readers “got it.”  Every lede doesn’t need to  be dumbed down for he masses.  When a reporter has a great idea and he should run with it and the editors should stay out of the way. And, by the way, readers are a lot more intelligent and sophisticated, than they are often given credit for. News persons aren’t the only people who watch films, view TV and read books.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s great.  I’m sure a large number of readers “got it.”  Every lede doesn’t need to  be dumbed down for he masses.  When a reporter has a great idea and he should run with it and the editors should stay out of the way. And, by the way, readers are a lot more intelligent and sophisticated, than they are often given credit for. News persons aren’t the only people who watch films, view TV and read books.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s great.  I’m sure a large number of readers “got it.”  Every lede doesn’t need to  be dumbed down for he masses.  When a reporter has a great idea and he should run with it and the editors should stay out of the way. And, by the way, readers are a lot more intelligent and sophisticated, than they are often given credit for. News persons aren’t the only people who watch films, view TV and read books.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=583458310 Ron Hayes

    Yes, it’s a truly great lede. But the first thing that strikes me is that it assumes an intelligent, sophisticated reader, someone who has seen “On The Waterfront,” or at least someone wordly enough to recognize the allusion. Sad to say, my second thought was the sound of an editor saying, “Our readers don’t know what a credenza is.”