How to think like a Journalist: the Hook

Ask any fisherman and he will tell you, the way you cast your hook is half the battle in catching fish. According to Bob Puccinelli of the St. Petersburg Times, for fly fishermen, or women for that matter, accuracy is important when casting the line. So is delivering the fly.

The same holds true for reporters and their profession. You have to find the right hook.

Hooks are the introduction of the story to the reader; they remind them why they are reading it, and lead them into caring to read further.

It is human nature, but the way we read goes through a process. The reader first looks at the photo, then the headline, then the hook – or as us journalists refer to it, the lede or lead.

We’ve heard the old cliché, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is true in most cases. Maybe a great photo on the cover of a magazine or the front page of a newspaper will attract a reader’s attention, but reading further requires the writer to be at his or her top form.

Some hooks are straight forward telling the journalists’ five Ws of a story: what is the story about, why did the story happen, when and where did it happen, and who was involved. Take for example my story about solar moratoriums written for the Ballston Journal:

BALLSTON – A six –month moratorium resolution on large free standing solar panels was proposed by Councilman Tim Szczepaniak on Tuesday, Jan. 3 and approved by the Ballston Town Council subject to a public hearing at Ballston’s Town Agenda Meeting on Jan. 31.

Other hooks to stories are more colorful such as my story about a Ballston resident raising funds for ALS which also appeared in the Ballston Journal:

BALLSTON – Rich Miller of Ballston Lake is familiar with bicycling, having toured the Adirondacks and trekked Maine by bike, but this time it’s different. This time Miller is fighting for a friend.

The way reporters and writers craft their stories depends predominantly on how they introduce it with the hook. If it is a feature story, writers will more likely write their story using a hook with punch to it, very similar to the Rich Miller story. This is a challenge to reporters, but also one of the best reasons to show off writing talent and ability.

However, if it is a news story that happened at the town, city, or school board meeting last night, the hook will show the relevant facts first.

So, ask yourself this question. Would a fisherman cast his line without the proper bait? Same holds true in journalism. Writing requires time, practice, and consistency. Finding the right hook is half the battle.


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