Don’t Bury the Lead

Mon, May 19, 2014

Simplicity Rules

I’m an accidental marketer. Before that I was an accidental journalist. One of my most important life lessons that has served me in both of these fields is to not bury the lead (or lede). It comes from a Nora Ephron book, though I first saw it when I read Made to Stick in 2007:

My high school journalism teacher, whose name is Charles O. Simms, is teaching us to write a lead–the first sentence or paragraph of a newspaper story. He writes the words “Who What Where When Why and How” on the blackboard. Then he dictates a set of facts to us that goes something like this: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the faculty of the high school will travel to Sacramento on Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Speaking there will be anthropologist Margaret Mead and Robert Maynard Hutchins, the present of the University of Chicago.” We all sit at our typewriters and write a lead, most of us inverting the set of facts so that they read something like this, “Anthropologist Margaret Mead and University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the faculty Thursday in Sacramento at a colloquium on new teaching methods, the principal of the high school Kenneth L. Peters announced today.” We turn in our leads. We’re very proud. Mr. Simms looks at what we’ve done and then tosses everything into the garbage. He says: “The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school Thursday.'”

This clearly had an impact on Ephron. You can see her tell the story and how she realized journalism “is about the point.”

After reading thousands of bad press releases, I realized I wanted to help get to that point. When I joined SendGrid, I preached developer communicators need to share knowledge, not features. It’s not what you’re announcing but what someone can do with it that matters.

Get to the point. Get to what matters. Don’t bury the lead.

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Mike Duffy Says:

    Always a pleasure to read a post from you. And good advice, with a fun example.

  2. Adam DuVander Says:

    And always a pleasure to receive a comment from you, Mr. Duffy!

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