The Art of the Lead

Glossy Magazines Show How It’s Done

• The Cliff-Hanger The Sports writers were apparently competing to see who could write the longest lead. Roger Angell came close with 293 words, but Malcolm Gladwell took home the gold with his essay on performance anxiety. Gladwell's lead, a muscular 314 words, puts us inside Jana Novotna's head as she runs through a series of serves at Wimbledon, and ends, just short of climax, with three questions: "Did she suddenly realize how . . . close she was to victory? Did she remember that she had never won a major tournament before? Did she look across the net and see Steffi Graf—Steffi Graf!—the greatest player of her generation?" He leaves us panting for more.

• Brevity, the Soul of Wit They could all learn something from New Yorker editor David Remnick's profile of boxing trainer Teddy Atlas. In a spare 175 words, Remnick unpacks the trainer archetype: He is an "unheeded Polonius" or "background figure" who "knows that his pleas and instructions most often go unheard." While others strive for authority by constructing a wall of words, Remnick clinches it in the first sentence: "Most cornermen have no more to offer a fighter than a bucket to spit in."

The same could be said for some magazine writers.

Cynthia Cotts will be on vacation for two weeks. The next Press Clips will appear online on September 19.

« Previous Page