Friday, June 22, 2007

Make up your mind

What's wrong with this picture? Or, more to the point, what's wrong with the lede, CP and downpage heds?

Here they are again, in slightly larger type:

Bush may close Guantanamo
Ozone advice may become order
Firefighters may have been trying to save colleagues

Exactly! Four stories on the page, three violations of the then-again rule: Any hed saying "X may happen" must by law have a deck or subhed saying "Then again, it may not." Heds are supposed to tell the reader what happened, not what might not happen.

The biggest problem with "may" heds is that they're almost never news. "Bush may close Guantanamo" is by definition no truer today than it was yesterday (which appears to be "not very"; we're talking about closing the prison, not the base itself, aren't we?). What's news is that some officials are now saying semi-publicly (or that "the AP has learned," whichever) that the said closure appears imminent.

And when you waffle your 1A heds as a matter of policy, there's always a risk that everyone writing for the page will waffle in the same way. As in the example above.

Stick to what's new. If all you can do is tell people what you're guessing, you don't have much claim on their attention.

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