Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hed tense: Ur doin it wrong

Couple basic points about how to use verb tense in headlines:

1) Present tense signals immediate past, the what-happened-today that makes something into a story for the next day's paper: Sox Thrash Yanks, Dewey Defeats Truman, Six Held In Murder of U.S. Nuns* -- you get the idea.
2) Future tense is -- well, don't use the future tense, because you don't know what's going to happen. So revert to Rule 1: Write about something that happened in the immediate past. Save "A Tanktown man will spend the rest of his life in prison" for the TV stations. We take into account the possibility that he might escape or win his freedom on appeal or what- ever and write "Man sentenced to life in prison," which will still be true tomorrow. Granted, it doesn't sound quite as breathless, but why be breathless when you can be right?

The point is illustrated by these heds from competing (well, allegedly) newspapers on the same story. The top one has it wrong. We don't know what the GOP will or won't do. All we know is what the story says:

The N.C. Republican Party says it will not back away from a planned TV ad that uses footage of Barack Obama's controversial former minister, despite objections from the expected GOP presidential nominee, John McCain.

Quick, raise your hand if you've never heard of a political party saying one thing and doing another. (Or, to be a little more charitable, of people changing their minds.) Thought so. That's why the second approach -- take a bow, N&O -- is the right one. "Refuses McCain's demand" will still accurately reflect the Wednesday event, no matter what happens tomorrow.

You have to admit, though, that GOP shill Linda Daves sure makes one homesick for a big old stack of Jesse Helms ads about "North Carolina values," doesn't she?

"This is not about the RNC," said Daves, of Charlotte. "It is about North Carolina, our values and two Democrat candidates who are out of sync with the values of North Carolina."

Where do you stand, Jim?

* CHN in-joke: Anybody remember the photo that Six Held ran next to?


Anonymous Roberta said...

The spatula-wielding fiends at the pancake breakfast! Okay, so I only know that because I've been devouring the archives recently, but I'm still excited to be in on the joke.

1:18 PM, April 25, 2008  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

Ye Olde Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast. I recall that we set up this dead-dog photo the day before so it had slipped from our minds before I ran into the ME's office, yellow wire copy in hand, shouting "Stop the Presses."

Well, maybe not in that fashion. But it was commemorated that way by J. Branch.

Who says hello, by the way.

3:51 PM, April 25, 2008  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home