Saturday, October 13, 2007

How not to write heds

We conclude Heds Week with a couple of examples of how not to write the darn things. Step forward the Miami Herald:

This one's striking for how little it manages to say, given that it comprises three discrete decks. "Nobel Peace Prize," the kicker, is directly repeated in the c-deck (and implied in the main hed). And the c-deck does nothing but modify some of the nouns from the main hed. "Gore" becomes "Al Gore" (well, I guess that's modification, in that it rules out Tipper). The prize becomes, redundantly, the Nobel Peace Prize. The "calls" become "renewed calls." And the "'08 bid" becomes "2008 presidential bid."

Hard to imagine adding less value to a headline if you tried. (And, yeah, it's the "awarding," not the "award," of the prize that did the prompting. "Award" is a count noun, but that's not what it means. Try to avoid sounding like a computer salesman unless it's absolutely necessary, OK?)

Same topic, different paper, mildly familiar theme. Regular readers will recall that "might" headlines are on the unwelcome list because all too rarely are they accompanied by the mandatory deck that needs to accompany every hed that says what "might" happen: And then again, it might not. Our second example is a "might" hed from Lawrence that's actually a "might not" to start with.

Yep. Not only might he not (meaning we need a deck that says "then again, he might"), but he still might not (calling, one supposes, for a deck that says "then again, he still might"). And there's that pesky general rule of hed writing that says it's a good idea to talk about what did happen, rather than what didn't. Somehow, this one manages to talk about the non-happening in both main ("might not run") and deck ("doesn't mention").

Hate to spend too much time these days picking on real journalists without a cheap shot or two at Fox, so head on over for a look at how the commentbots are following the same story.

Hume: Earlier this week a British judge ruled that the movie had at least nine major errors and could not be shown to students without balancing information.

Gibson: Big winner is the big guy — big Al Gore. On Friday he got the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming. Tactfully, nobody mentioned the British judge who ruled Gore made at least nine errors in "An Inconvenient Truth."

My, my. Even the "news" "report" at Fox managed to count the errors and come up with -- well, nine. Not "at least nine," which seems sort of like saying the Sox scored "at least 10" runs last night: technically true, but implying something more than the arithmetic warrants.

Funny, "nine" is the same count the Times, itself another Murdoch property, came away with. Yet somehow, the Times managed to include this graf that Fox must have, you know, cut for space or something:

Despite finding nine significant errors the judge said many of the claims made by the film were fully backed up by the weight of science. He identified “four main scientific hypotheses, each of which is very well supported by research published in respected, peer-reviewed journals and accords with the latest conclusions of the IPCC.”

Over toward the other end of the ideological press spectrum (they actually have a press spectrum in Britain, and it actually kind of works*), the Guardian stacked its story a bit differently but came away with the same basic order at the top: Lead with the errors, then mention the finding that the film was "broadly accurate." Funny, how "balanced" professional journalism can look when compared with the product on offer at Fox.

* Go back and read A.J. Liebling's account of British press performance in the Suez crisis; it's in the big posthumous anthology that Jean Stafford edited.



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Actually, in fact, it's "nine points that might be errors or where differing views should be presented for balance."

But that's a nit considering that the whole "broadly accurate" and "can be shown in schools" thing just seems to disappear in most papers over here.

9:34 AM, October 14, 2007  

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