Sheesh, Time Magazine. If You’re Going to Tease a Story that’s Behind a Paywall, at Least Write a Lede that Makes Me Want to Keep Reading.

I’ve never been a fan of the Time magazine paywall. Not because I don’t think journalists shouldn’t get paid, or that “information wants to be free!” or any crap like that, but simply because Time is doing it wrong. This bothers me, because, as an alum (I spent the first 11 years of my journalism career there), I very much want Time to succeed.

There are other, better models out there, and I’m certain Time will find them.


But right now they are not, as evidenced by this week’s cover story, “What It’s Like to Be a Cop in America.” Which is interesting! I would actually like to read a good, thoughtful, compelling piece on this. So, you know, seduce me! I’m ready to be convinced.

And then I get this:

Trevor Peszko wears the uniform of a Philadelphia cop with the same earnestness that made him a success in his first career, as a corporate trainer for Chuck E. Cheese’s. “They flew me to Vegas to dress up as the mascot for their GM convention,” he says. “That was my first time in Vegas. I was 19.” And at 31, he’s back in the city where he grew up, walking slowly toward the driver’s-side window of a car that has just run a red light in a high-crime patch of town. Peszko is white. The driver is black. And as if the neighborhood does not look sufficiently desolate already, flies buzz around a rat dead on the pavement between them.

This does not, to say the least, inspire me to sign on the line which is dotted.

The leisurely opening is, of course, a staple of the news magazine form. But when you’re trying to convert a reader, you don’t have the luxury of throat-clearing. This is clearly written for the captive reader, one who’s already paid and doesn’t have the option of backing out (maybe Time should offer refunds…), which was fine in 1995 but not so great today.

What would be better? A more dramatic opening graf, for instance, would pull me in — I read the words “Chuck E. Cheese’s” in sentence one and I’m already looking for the exit. And the transition from Vegas to “a high-crime patch” of Philadelphia doesn’t do a particularly good job convincing me of the danger — I see dead rats in the streets of my rich Upper West Side neighborhood all the time.

The deeper problem, though, is this sets up a classic stop situation, and given events of the past year, the expectation is that this is going to end badly for the driver of the car, but I don’t get enough from this lead-in to tell, or to compel me to read further. As a reader, I need to see this anecdotal lede all the way through if you’re going to convince me to buy.

Or, instead of writing a more interesting lede (though it’s hard to argue against that…) Time could go the “abstract” route — give me a one-graf summary of what’s in the story, which it’s cool, and why I need to read it. That’s more work, sure, but that’s what selling is, work. This is just lazy.