Calling the beginning of a story a ‘lede’ is just another form of nostalgia

HowardOwens.com | Chris L. Keller
A Sunday morning tweet from NYU’s Jay Rosen provoked a conversation about why journalists call the opening of a story a “lede.”

Jennifer Connic, a social media producer at NJ.com, tweeted, “I kind of like lede still. I can’t describe why, but I do. Maybe it’s my newspaper roots.” Steve Buttry responded, “I don’t think you should spell it ‘lede’ unless you can remember how molten lead smells. I can, and I don’t.”

Howard Owens, who apparently has collected hundreds of old journalism books over the years, informed people that “lede” doesn’t appear in any of those old texts until the 1980s. (Merriam-Webster says the first usage was in 1976.) The American Heritage Dictionary says the mispelled version — no longer considered misspelled — was “revived in modern journalism to distinguish the word from lead, [a] strip of metal separating lines of type.” Considering that journalists didn’t begin using the jargonistic spelling until Linotype machines started to disappear from newsrooms in the 1970s and 1980s, Owens wrote on his blog, ” ‘Lede’ is an invention of linotype romanticists, not something used in newsrooms of the linotype era.” 

He noted on Twitter, “I’m no enemy of romanticism and nostalgia in the news game. I just believe in historical accuracy.”

If this has piqued your interest, Keller’s Storify of the conversation has references to the “bulldog” edition, hot wax and a proportional wheel. And while we’re at it, let’s debate TK (“to come,”), CQ (meaning a term or spelling has been verified) and the other journo-code words. Update: Some answers. (Hint: telegraphs.)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183778508 Peter Goodman

    I remember using “lede,” “hed,” “graf” etc from my first days at the Springfield Union in 1967. I still use them because that’s what comes naturally to me. they are, I supposed, obsolescent but not yet obsolete.

  • Anonymous

    Hogwash! Lede was used when I started newspapering in 1965.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @facebook-1524739962:disqus A CJR story by Merrill Perlman says: “Sted, graf, hed, dek: These and other shortened forms of words were used as typesetting or composition orders, so they couldn’t be mistaken for words to be set into type by themselves.”
    Makes sense to me. She explains other terms, too: http://www.cjr.org/language_corner/leading_questions.php?page=all

    Steve Myers
    Poynter.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/johntheeditor John Cooper

    Okay, that’s why “lede”…so what explains “hed” and “graf”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Frank-Lockwood/638543469 Frank Lockwood

    http://books.google.com/books/about/The_professional_journalist.html?id=DXS1AAAAIAAJ&utm_source=gb-gplus-shareThe professional journalist

    The professional journalist: a guide to the practices and principles of the news media, by John Hohenberg , (1978) mentions “lede” (and says it’s a misspelling by people who should know better.)John Hohenberg 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Frank-Lockwood/638543469 Frank Lockwood

    http://books.google.com/books/about/The_professional_journalist.html?id=DXS1AAAAIAAJ&utm_source=gb-gplus-shareThe professional journalist

    The professional journalist: a guide to the practices and principles of the news media, by John Hohenberg , (1978) mentions “lede” (and says it’s a misspelling by people who should know better.)John Hohenberg