The news lead
Finding out what happened
The lead refers to the first (and occasionally the second) paragraph of a news story. In the
Bangkok Post, the lead is usually one information-packed sentence which expands on the story’s
main point as introduced in the headline. As we mentioned earlier, news stories are basically
variations of “something happened”. The lead will usually tell you what the “something
happened” is. That information is generally found in the subject and the main verb of the lead
sentence, so a little knowledge of the grammar of the lead can be very useful.
The grammar of the lead
We will focus on single-sentence leads because they are by far the most common. The majority
of the leads in the Bangkok Post are simple subject-verb-object sentences with the subject and
the main verb appearing together at or near the beginning of the sentence. The problem for the
reader usually begins when the subject and the main verb are either delayed or separated from
each other. Notice how the following lead becomes more complicated as the writer adds
Thousands of Thai students are learning to read the Bangkok Post.
Thousands of Thai students, most of whom attend some of the country’s best-known schools, are
learning to read the Bangkok Post.
In an innovative programme sponsored by the Post Publishing Public Company Limited,
thousands of Thai students, most of whom attend some of the country’s best-known schools, are
learning to read the Bangkok Post.
To understand each of the above, you must be able to find the subject and main verb. The above examples illustrate three of the most common positions for these key elements. In the first, the subject and verb are together at the beginning of the sentence. In the second, the subject
and verb are separated. In the third, the sentence opens with an introductory phrase, delaying the appearance of the subject and verb. In the Bangkok Post, introductory phrases are not common except when the story is an especially important one—like the ending of a war.
A common misunderstanding
One of the reasons people sometimes misunderstand the lead is that they find the wrong subject
or, more commonly, the wrong main verb. This is especially true when the subject and verb is
separated by a phrase or clause. Here is an amusing and true example:
(a real-life example)
One day a Thai student came to me. She was having trouble understanding the following
A woman said to be despondent over her husband’s heavy drinking jumped into a canal Friday
night with her three children.
To me the sentence was totally clear, so I asked her to translate it into Thai to find out how she
understood it. Here is her translation:
A woman confessed that she and her three children pushed her husband into a canal Friday night because he was a heavy drinker.
How was that possible? Look at the first three words: A woman said. That was the source of her
problem. She thought the main verb was “said” instead of “jumped”. One reason she made this mistake was because the writer omitted who was from the sentence. The long form would have begun: “A woman who was said (by a witness) to be despondent...” This is a common technique
in news writing so watch for it.
Adding the source
One of the most common variations of the “something happened” story is the “someone said something happened” story. In this case the lead sentence will usually include the source (the person who gave the information). If the source is very well known and important, it will come at the beginning of the sentence:
The head of the US military, General John Shalikashvil, said Thursday that China, despite its
military might, would fail if it tried to invade Taiwan.
More often, however, the source will come at the end:
To find out about the last part of the news story, go to: The body.
A Thai family who were sent the wrong body when a relative died in Singapore, has ended a
month-long standoff by agreeing to return the body in exchange for US$6,000 in damages, the
Thai Embassy said yesterday.