Monday, April 10, 2006

How not to write heds

Two things here:

Lawsuit planned over 911 call dismissed as play
5-year-old phoned to say his mother had collapsed; she died
DETROIT -- A lawyer said he plans a lawsuit over the death of a woman whose young son called 911 to report she had collapsed, only to be told he shouldn't be playing on the phone.

1) It's OK -- it's even outright encouraged -- to use auxiliaries and full relatives in heds to clarify which part is which. When you don't, as here, your poor readers have no idea what's supposed to be in the main clause. Is it:

Lawsuit dismissed (lawsuit that was planned over 911 call is dismissed)
or
Lawsuit planned (lawsuit is planned over 911 call that was dismissed)
?

If it's the latter, of course ...
2) Regular readers will recall the technical legal term for planned lawsuits. It is "hot air." A lawsuit requires very little in the way of burden-o-proof. Telling gullible reporters, or babble-show hosts, that you plan to file one requires the square root of no proof at all. Any story about a planned lawsuit should go on the spike unless and until the suit is filed and you have a copy in your hot little hand.

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