More than a few of you have emailed me to give me a headsup about the recent discovery of a marginal note in a fifteenth-century manuscript that mentions Robin Hood and places him in Sherwood Forest in the thirteenth-century. To the scholar responsible for the find, Dr. Julian Luxford of St Andrews, I tip my hat. Awesome find.
On the other hand, to the mainstream media reporters who wrote the articles that have been forwarded my way, I take off my hat, scratch my head, and fall into an awkward silence while feigning a sudden and pressing interest in the hat’s interior.
The cause of my consternation is this: the marginal gloss is twenty-three words long. Yet most reports do not include the text of the note. And those who do give the text bury it in the middle or the end of the article, spending the first half to three-fourths of their account describing the find. It’s just twenty-three words, already! Here, let me write a reasonable news story for you:
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — A manuscript scholar at St. Andrews University, Dr. Julian Luxford, has recently announced the discovery of a hitherto unknown medieval reference to the popular character Robin Hood in a historical chronicle dated to the fifteenth century. It reads: “Around this time [1294-9], according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies.”
Yeah, the style isn’t very newspapery, but it gets to the point, doesn’t it? If the subject of your story is one-sentence long, lead with that sentence and save your clever analysis for later in the article.