Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Paging Dr. Observer

The first rule of hed writing is a short one. It goes like this:


or, Read The Story. That's the best way to keep from writing heds that are contradicted by the material beneath them, which isn't a Good Thing in any case but seems especially pernicious when you're playing doctor. As in:

Acne drug bad for liver, heart
Findings underscore need to monitor patients closely

If the kicker's supposed to be some sort of attribution, by the way, it doesn't work. But the point of concern is the main hed, which says that the acne drug in question is "bad for liver, heart." Is that what Study Says?

Not to judge from the lede, which says the drug "seems to raise the risk for potential heart and liver problems more than doctors had expected" (emphasis added). The risks that make up the hed, in other words, are already Old News. What this study shows, according to that pesky text, is that "abnormal results for cholesterol and liver function were more common than expected."

What does that mean in real life? Hey, let's ask one of the authors:

While those conditions can lead to problems over the long term, abnormal lab tests don't necessarily mean patients will develop heart or liver problems, said study co-author Dr. Lee Zane of the University of California, San Francisco.

"An elevation in cholesterol doesn't guarantee a heart attack. A high level of liver enzymes doesn't mean cirrhosis of the liver," Zane said.

Another case of good study, decent story, bad hed. Desk, if you don't have room to write the hed a story needs, go stand on somebody's fingers until you're given more.


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