Worst Lead Ever?
Published on October 27, 2011 by Sara Foss

My head almost exploded today while reading one of the worst newspaper leads ever written.

Here it is:

"There's an old saying that the Russian military has two great allies: General January and General February. Dozens of people camping in Academy Park as part of the Occupy Albany movement will soon encounter their own foe: Lieutenant October Snow."

The article goes on to talk about some of the challenges facing the Occupy Albany group camped out near the state Capitol as snow approaches. But I struggled to get past the first paragraph, which made me want to dig out my battered copy of "War and Peace" and reread the sections that describe the winter struggles of Napolean and the French army. Especially confusing was the phrase "Lieutenant October Snow." So, January and Feburary are generals ... but October Snow is a lieutenant? Is there a database of meteorological military metaphors where I can double-check that ranking? Why do January and February get to dbe generals, while October Snow is only a lieutenant? Is it a severity thing - an indication that January and February are worse, more painful and grueling, than October snow? Or is it simply an attempt to be clever?

Then there's the lead's nonsensical comparison. To the Russians, winter was an ally ... but to the Occupy Albany protestors (and \the French), it's a foe. I'm sorry, but why are we comparing foes to allies? Reading that paragraph makes me feel like I'm playing the opposite game. Which might be intentional. Maybe the reporter wants me to figure out who Lieutenant October Snow's ally is on my own. OK, I'll bite. If Lieutenant October Snow is a foe to Occupy Albany, does that mean he's an ally to ... Governor Andrew Cuomo? Cuomo does want the protesters out of the park. Maybe he's hoping they'll get cold and go home. Which would make Lieutenant October Snow Cuomo's ally. And everyone will nod their heads and say, "This is just like what happened to the French, when they starved to death in the brutal Russian cold." Or something.

In short: Reporters should only incorporate Russian history into their stories when they're writing about Russia. They should resist the temptation to use overwrought metaphors that make no sense, and coin cutesy terms like "Lieutenant October Snow." It's for the public good, trust me. We'll all be better off for it.

User Comments
Beka | October 28, 2011 18:59

Worst headline I've seen recently: "One month in, OWS protests fail to topple capitalism."

Add Comment
Add comment