Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Forbidden heds: Paging Dr. Missourian

Ever wonder why "could" and "might" heds are on the forbidden list?

Twins joined at skull
could survive surgery

1) Well, yeah. It's generally acknowledged that every now and then, patients actually survive medical procedures. And sometimes they don't. Any hed that's just as true when negated ("Twins might not survive,"or, higher in the column, "Capsized* boat might not result in $25 fine") is automatically a bad hed.
2) If we're going to offer medical opinions in big type, shouldn't we tell readers where we got our medical degrees?
3) This story's not in the paper because of the possibility that patients sometimes survive treatment. It's in the paper because the doc who's apparently going to make the call about the operation thinks it might work. That's what the hed needs to reflect.

*While we're on this one: Rimsters, pls try to give the story a fighting chance. Is this one about a boat that capsized or about an accident that killed 20 people?

This particular story has been an object lesson in stuff not to do from the outset: had the desk taken the story that moved at 2:50 p.m. Sunday, sted the one that moved at 2:20, first-day coverage could have said that 19 people were reported dead, rather than "broadcast reports said some of the people died." That should have been an easy fix at the rim, slot or page-proof stages. If we're going to spend space on wire news, let's maximize bang-per-buck whenever possible.


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