Below are some examples of good and bad leads.
Examples of good leads:
Lead: A landslide triggered by heavy rain has hit a town in southern Mexico, killing at least four people and engulfing a number of houses, officials say.
Reason it's a good lead: This lead does a good job of capturing what, how, where, and who. It is clear, concise, and gets to the point right away. It also grabs the readers attention.
Source: Boston Globe (Associated Press)
Lead: BOSTON—Massachusetts Rep. Karyn Polito has blocked plans by House Democratic lawmakers to pass a $400 million midyear spending bill for a second straight day.
Reason it's a good lead: This is a good lead because it is focused, uses effective verbs and quickly answers where, who, what, when. At the same time, the lead/lede is interesting enough where it captures the readers attention.
Examples of bad leads:
Source: UN News Centre
Lead: 28 September 2010 – From achieving global anti-poverty targets to tackling climate change and other critical environmental issues, the bloc of developing nations known as the “Group of 77 and China” has a vital role to play in ensuring progress on a host of priorities on the United Nations agenda, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.
Reason it's a bad lead: This is a bad lead/lede because it is too wordy with too many clauses. It goes off on mini tangents with its wordy clauses. It's confusing to the reader and can easily lose him or her. I had to read it twice to get the point, and I still wasn't sure I got it until I read the rest of the article.
Source: Boston Globe
Article: Merger could lift airfares in Boston
Lead: Southwest Airlines said yesterday that it plans to buy rival AirTran for $1.42 billion, combining two of the nation’s biggest discount carriers in a move that could eventually mean higher ticket prices for some Boston travelers.
Reason it's a bad lead: This article's lead/lede is misleading although it is catchy and lures the reader to keep reading. It got my attention, but throughout the article, I kept wondering how & why will the Southwest / Airtran merger cause the prices to go higher? Mast of the article's supporting paragraph talks about costs getting lower, although the lead indicates the cost will be higher. There is only one blurb that touches upon lack of competition, translating it to higher ticket prices. The rest of the article seems to be supporting the opposite.