How to end your story with a hard kick to the reader’s privates

I didn’t think up the clever title, but my session leader did. Rob Kaiser, previous staff writer for the Chicago Tribune and now an assistant professor of journalism at   Canisius College, was speaking on the importance of story endings— which, in his opinion, should receive more attention than the lede from the writer.

The beginnings of books, stories, movies, songs and articles don’t make people cry, Kaiser said. It comes later on, and more often than not, it comes at the end. You can bring your message home at the end. As a writer, you tie all of the loose strings together to reward the reader for sticking it out until the end, and that, he said, your readers deserve.

In a day when much of the news industry is fighting to stay afloat and searching for new economic models and methods to maintain readership, Kaiser said journalists couldn’t afford to bore readers. From feature and profile stories to news articles, he told the crowd that writing good kickers should stay a priority for the journalist.

I agree that having a well-written, memorable ending is always much better than writing something that required no real thought, but I disagree that audiences are expecting great kickers in their news stories these days. Sure, for in-depth news stories, you owe it to the readers to “ring all the bells” that were placed throughout the article, as Kaiser said, quoting Frank DeFord. But in a day when people are looking to spend only a minute and a half searching for a specific news topic and quickly reading the gist of it, many readers don’t even make it to the end of an article.

From the back-around and extension to the metaphor and the “chorus of the bells,” kicker techniques certainly have their place in journalism. They are powerful tools, depending on the article. But, like anything else, the writer needs to use judgment about when it is worth spending a lot of time on the kicker. In hard news stories, I still think the lede forevermore takes precedence. But it’s something I am going to make a point to work on.

I wish I had a better ending for this.

-Natalie Allison


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