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'Write me a lead that doesn't stink'

By Darcy L. Fargo

Darcy Fargo

February 13, 2019

“Hey, Monkey,” I said. “Open your story about tonight’s village board meeting? Got it? Now write me a lead that doesn’t stink.”

Jonathan Monfiletto chose the nickname “Monkey” over what we had been calling him in the newsroom: “New Guy.” The name was first proposed by a Watertown Times editor who called our newsroom in Malone and asked that I send him “Monkey Stiletto’s story” about a topic of regional interest. When Jonathan indicated he preferred “Monkey” to “New Guy,” it became his newsroom identity.

A recent college graduate, Monkey had solid writing skills, strong understanding of government structures and systems, and a fun personality – all great attributes for a reporter. But, like any of us, he also made mistakes. Some mistakes were repeated with some frequency. One of Monkey’s mistakes: He wrote boring leads – the single sentences or paragraphs that open news stories.

As the news editor, I was tasked with editing copy produced by reporters on the night shift. As my first editor did with me, I would correct a reporter’s frequently occurring mistakes and explain the mistakes to the reporter two or three times. After that, I’d make the reporter correct the error. That way, he or she would learn. Usually, reporters trained this way would stop making those mistakes or at least make them less frequently.

After the first few times I told him to “write a lead that didn’t stink,” Monkey became more attentive to his leads and wrote stronger stories that required less editing, though he still gave me the occasional opportunity to bust out my favorite line and a smile.

Monkey was given the gift of being a strong writer (and a great person, I might add), but he still had to put in the work to improve. He had to make the conscious effort to focus on his leads and to write leads that didn’t stink.

Similarly, God blesses us with gifts and talents. It’s our job to cooperate with Him to cultivate those talents, to grow them, and to put them to work for His glory. While being open to God’s graces and opportunities, we still have to put in the work.

And we all make mistakes as we strive for holiness. While I think we would all love to experience a miracle and have our sinfulness, struggles and moments of doubt taken from us, I think we all know it doesn’t often happen that way. Instead, we’re called to be open to God’s graces, but we usually need to work to cooperate with those graces, and it’s generally not easy or comfortable work.

But the work helps God make us holier people, and that never stinks.

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