Saturday, June 10, 2006

Desk gets late story, grabs random words, cuts, pastes, leaves

When you're trying to get a hed out a multi-element tale and the dear old deadline clock is running, the trick isn't to try to jam in a whole sequence of events. It's to pick out a highlight and -- following the rules -- build a nice, simple structure pointing to it. Not, in other words, like this:

Man barricades himself, fires shots, holds police at bay
Police were negotiating late Friday with an armed man who had barricaded himself behind a fence in an outdoor area near a park on N.C. 115.

Close to 20 officers from Huntersville, Cornelius and Charlotte-Mecklenburg were trying at 11:15 p.m. to get the man to surrender, said Huntersville police Lt. Kurt Marcus.

Officers responded to a call regarding an armed man a little after 7 p.m., Marcus said. When they approached, the man barricaded himself behind the fence. That's when officers called the department's SWAT team and negotiators.

The man fired shots but did not appear to be aiming at people, Marcus said.

First off, where's the "holding at bay"? If it isn't in the story, don't infer it into the hed. Second, let grammar be grammar. "Barricade" needs two complements in this sense. You can barricade a street, but you can't barricade yourself (at least not without a prepositional phrase: "behind a fence," as in the lede, or "in the fortalice," or whatever). So imagine grammar waving a big red sign warning you that a correct hed using "barricade" will be really long and boring.

Conveniently, if we're trying to get down to a single verb phrase (not a bad hed principle itself), gunplay has a lot to recommend it. That leaves room to work in lots of other stuff in other grammatical structure. Turn "barricades" and "at bay" into a noun, give it a preposition, and you have "during standoff." Even in a little bitty county like Meck, "behind a fence" isn't a very informative location, but "near N.C. 115" -- hmm, figure that might help get people's attention?

So, passive VP and two prepositional phrases: "Shots fired during standoff near N.C. 115." Another in the long list of heds that weren't declaimed vpon the boards of the Globe, but the grammar's in order, the location's better, and at least it sounds like a hed, not like the instructions on a tube of toothpaste.

Oh, and by the way? Friends don't let friends say "Officers responded to." No matter your circulation. No matter how close to deadline.


Anonymous Strayhorn said...

I think barricading yourself is only allowed in Massachusettes and Hawaii.

Actually, I found "action heds" to be the most fun to write, especially if guns or sex were involved. Why is this no longer so? It seems like a secret cabel of publishers and other Evil People are seeking to bleed the fun out of heds.

Strayhorn, now posting from Baghdad, Iraq.

8:53 PM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Strayhorn! This certainly speaks well of the Baghdad nightlife. Best from the doc and me.

I blame the civic journalism people. They're the ones who decided

CRIME: What your family can do

is a better hed than


10:57 PM, June 10, 2006  
Blogger OnCrime said...

Just an update- he ended up killing himself & the standoff lasted 23 hours. Crazy!

1:39 AM, June 11, 2006  

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