Rushton was telling me how he'd nearly finished a story about Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, and was about to hit the sack when a new and much improved lede, as he puts it, "popped in my head at 11:30 on Sunday night. Rather than get out of bed to go to the computer, I wrote the paragraphs down on my iPhone."
The result? A terrific piece on Kolb, with a much better lede than the one Rushton had originally written.
So I thought why not write about the "aha" lede, that flash of inspiration that comes seemingly out of the blue, often after you thought you'd finished your story.
I interviewed several reporters and all said they'd had this experience. The highlight of the reporting process was interviewing Rick Bragg, a Pulitzer Prize winner for feature writing and a former New York Times correspondent. I've long admired his work.
I've also experienced the "aha" moment. Years ago I wrote about Japanese Americans who were held in internment camps during World War II. I'd interviewed a former internee, an elderly man named Paul Kusuda, and while I wasn't thrilled with the lede, the editor was yelling for the article. I was about to send it when an entirely new and much better lede popped into my head. It went as follows:
One day in America, not so long ago, Paul Kusuda had his freedom taken away.
Wrenched from his home, herded onto a train bound for a Japanese internment camp, the 19-year-old Kusuda watched the landscape roll by, wondering where his country had gone.
Where did this come from? Years later, I still don't know. I remember connecting the image of Kusuda sitting on a train with the idea of him watching his country disappear, but beyond that, I'm not really sure. From my own experience, aha ledes have usually come when I've worked on an article for a while, so maybe it's a matter of connecting the dots, of finding links between seemingly disparate elements in the story.
Here's the story. Let me know if you've had an "aha" lede experience.
Photo of Rick Bragg courtesy the University of Alabama