This is the intro of the prize-winning news story written by Tom Wicker on the day President Kennedy was shot:
“Dallas, Nov 22 – President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today.”
It is a marvel of compacted writing, with “who”, “what” and “where” all in there. And he carries on unfolding the story in masterly style.
But the problem with that story then was that everybody already knew. The New York Times considered itself the journal of record so a straight summary intro was the norm.
Today a paper could not get away with that. It would have to look at another way of introducing the story.
Here are some of my alternatives based on what was known on the day.
Shift of power
This one focuses on the shift of power and culture:
“Camelot is dead, shattered by rifle fire in Dallas today. The French wines and string quartets beloved by President Kennedy and Jackie will give way to a different culture in the White House. It will be barbeques and a Texas Hoedown as President Johnson takes the reins of power.”
This one focuses on the political angle:
“President Kennedy went to Texas to see if he could hold it in his re-election bid. A single assassin made sure today that he would not be re-elected.”
Power of the president
This one focuses on the power of the US president:
“A man with what looks like a bowling ball bag waited outside the operating theatre in Dallas’ Parkland Hospital today. After a few brief words with the surgeons he moved to stand beside the new President of the USA, carrying with him the nuclear codes. This made President Johnson the most powerful man on earth.”
This one focuses on the widow.
“The day started well for Jackie Kennedy: groomed and adored by the Texas public. It ended badly: her assassinated husband’s blood on her stockings and without her hat.”
You try it and see how intros have to change in today’s 24-7 news culture.
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