There’s a lot of strange spelling in the newsroom. “Hed” stands for “headline,” “dek” stands for “deck,” “lede” stands for “lead,” and “graf” stands for “graph” (as in paragraph).
What do these terms mean?
The hed is the headline of the story. That’s easy enough.
The dek, also known as the subhed, is a short sentence or two that summarizes what the article is about. It generally appears right after the hed and “helps readers get an idea of the story and make a decision about whether they should continue on to read the full article” (source: The Balance). Apparently it comes from the old Dutch word “dek,” meaning “to cover” (not sure why that makes sense, but okay).
Nowadays, in online news, the dek contains terminology chosen for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) purposes. Yesterday, our homepage featured this article paying tribute to Debbie Reynolds. The dek is the sentence in grey below the hed:
Note this is sometimes but not always the first couple of sentences of the actual article (in this case, it is not).
The lede is the opening paragraph (or two) of the story, meant to capture the reader’s attention. In an academic essay, this would be akin to the introduction. In this Washington Post article about millennials avoiding sex, the lede is the first paragraph (or what journalists would call the first graf): an anecdote about a 26-year-old who hasn’t had sex in a while.
The nut graf or nutgraf is the graf with the most “meat” in it. It usually comes after the lede. In an academic essay, this would be akin to the thesis statement. Think “nutshell paragraph.” In the Washington Post article, this would be the third graf, right after a quote from the 26-year-old about how she views intimacy. This graf describes a recent study that finds a pattern of sexual inactivity among younger millennials (those born in the 1990s) versus the previous generation.
Why the weird spelling for these terms?
This article from O’Reilly publishing says that “these intentional misspellings will help distinguish an editor’s commentary from a writers prose,” which makes some sense. Or maybe it was to distinguish, say, a “lede” from the lead used in the printing press, or a story’s “nutgraf” from the bar graph included in the text. Whatever the reason, the indiosyncratic spelling is here to stay.