Fourth, write well:
The old ‘inverted pyramid” newspaper story Charles Dow had learned from Samuel Bowles [an early editor at the Springfield, Mass., Daily Republican]—“put it all in the first line”—and that had evolved in a formulaic “who, what, when, where, and why,” was, Kilgore noted, simply boring. Its decree that the information in a story becomes less important the farther the readers go into the story certainly helped editors in the composing room cut stories to fit available space, but it also implicitly encouraged readers to stop reading. This was precisely the opposite of what Kilgore understood an editor should be seeking. “The easiest thing in the world for any reader,” he reminded Kerby, “is to stop reading.” Even worse, the inverted pyramid formula implicitly discouraged analysis. Many articles would be more effective if they began, as had many that Kilgore had written in trip around the country these last eight years, a telling anecdote or provocative quote.”
So, that’s where that came from! No doubt, this innovation caused a lot of woeful newspaper writing over the years, but of course it cleared the way for greatness.
Fifth, don’t forget the nutgraf:
Articles beginning with anecdotal ledes, however, also required a new element, a straightforward explanation before a story got too far along, about what the article was actually about. In time, this statement, placed in a short paragraph of its own, became known as the “nut graf.” It is very difficult to determine the extent to which Barney Kilgore and Bill Kerby invented anecdotal leads and nut grafs in the newspaper context, but there is no question that both concepts became closely identified with, and typified by the Wall Street Journal leders.
Sixth, don’t overdo it:
Not every story, of course, could or should begin with an anecdotal lead. Some news stories were so urgent that such an approach would be counterproductive.
Those were only the start of his changes, which, as we know, brought the Journal to greatness. Among other things, Tofel tells us, he faced down General Motors in 1964, then the country’s largest company and the paper’s largest advertiser, in an epic battle that went a long way to establishing the American newsroom’s traditional editorial independence from the business side.
Listen, Kilgore rode a post-war economic boom that lifted the entire country. I realize that, and so did he. The Journal would probably have done well under any competent leader, I’m sure (although the Herald Tribune didn’t do so hot, did it?).
And we don’t know what he would have done today. Some of his ideas were certainly screwy.
For one thing, he had this bizarre management style. Get this: he would get up, walk around, and actually talk to non-executive people who worked for him, even, including, hold onto something, linotype operators, and even worse, reporters. Every day!
Here’s how Vermont Royster, the late, great Journal columnist, described it:
[H]e hardly ever had any department head to his office. Instead, he made a daily practice of going to see them.
After the morning’s paper work, he would start from his eyrie on the top floor and walk through the building, floor by floor. On the way he would stop in at the office of the advertising director, the circulation manager, the comptroller, the managing editor, and other key people. If they were busy, he might wave and pass on. If not, he would stop and ask them what was going on in their areas, what plans they had, and so forth. If he had questions, he asked. If he had thoughts, he would express them, more often phrased as suggestions rather than orders.
Along the way, he would also stop to chat with secretaries, clerks, or copyboys. These journeys would end in the basement where the printing presses were located. There, too, he would not only talk with the production manager, but also with linotype operators and pressmen, many of whom he knew and all of whom knew him. Only the newest employee ever called him Mr. Kilgore. To everyone else he was Barney.
Yes, on second thought, we should probably just forget Kilgore. The man would never make it today.