Sunday, October 14, 2007

What we have here ...

... is a failure to coordinate. Hence, today's lesson in hed writing.
A theme of Hed Week has been: Don't yank readers' chains. They're busy and coffee-deprived, and they may not have time to figure you what you're trying to mean amid the welter of stuff that you say. Today's examples exemplify the lost art of parallel structure.
First up is the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which moves its pivot foot in the deck by shifting verb voice. What the hed seems to be trying to say (the bulk of the story, meaning whatever substance there might be after the 5-graf anecdotal lede, is subscribers-only) is that the ex-comptroller's history was overlooked (passive: by whom, we don't know) and that the said history also foreshadowed his behavior. At a glance (news flash! that's how heds are read), though, both verbs look active: His history overlooked and foreshadowed his behavior. Possible cures: Bring back the missing auxiliary verbs or look for something that could modify "history." I don't think "Quillin's overlooked history foreshadowed ..." would quite do it, but it's a start.
Now to the home folks. Along with the sin of leading the paper with a question (and one the story can't really address, at that), the hed overlooks another principle of coordination: The more complex parts of a compound should go nearer the end. Otherwise, you risk confusing what goes in what part of the compound.
The hed's suggesting two things that might hamper the Obama effort in Michigan: Joining the flight from the early primary and saying less-than-worshipful things about the Big Three automakers. But with the larger of those two coming first, "fuel challenge" looks like something else Obama pulled his name off of. Fix: Put the shorter element first and reduce the longer one as far as possible. "Decision on primary" would at least get it down to two chunks of grammar, rather than three, and we could try "Fuel challenge, decision on primary may work against him."
Who knows? We might even have room to indicate whose speculation that is, rather than putting the burden on the paper's own crystal ball.

5 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

How about "Overlooked, Quillan's history foreshadowed"?

1:33 PM, October 14, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

Yeah, I'd probably wave that through (assuming the object got reattached). Participle-in-front sounds a bit Timeslike, which isn't always bad.

7:26 PM, October 14, 2007  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Yes, the object would have to be there.

5:54 AM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I just thought of this as I hit 'publish'

Quillin's overlooked history foreshadowed his behavior

5:56 AM, October 15, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

That'll fly. Most of the weekend's heds went straight into the classroom, so, um, it wasn't _really_ procrastinating.

9:19 PM, October 15, 2007  

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