Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ambiguities: U haz dem


Unfortunate choice of punctuation -- probably driven by an unfortunate decision about news value -- in the offlede hed. Here's what the story is about:

Headlines, police officers and grieving family members state the obvious: When one person kills another and then himself,* it's a murder-suicide.

By general hed conventions, we're supposed to read that comma as an "and," which -- unlike the hyphen of the lede --- leaves us at a fork in the road. Are we talking about

(cases of murder) and (cases of suicide)
or
(cases of) (murder and suicide)?

How did the hed writer get painted into such a corner? Because someone pushed a soft-news story into a hard-news specification. Vertical heds like this one (1/36/4 to its friends, unless I'm misreading the size) are good for subject-verb-object stories: "Quake kills thousands" or "Dewey defeats Truman." They're undependable for features or other slow-developing stories.

What's the cat doing there? Because Halloween falls on a Friday this year! Usually you use a "calendar," not a "newspaper," to figure that out. Here, it ends up as a centerpiece, creating an overall impression that either (a) cancer has been cured and the Mideast is at peace or (b) Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper forgot to plug in the news judgment machine before the budget meeting.
* This strikes me as a really unfortunate generic "he."

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4 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

However, I believe this is a crime which is overwhelmingly committed by men. Women tend to do one or the other, or follow up the murder rather later so it doesn't get to be a "murder-suicide".

Why couldn't they have used a hyphen instead of that comma?

5:15 PM, October 23, 2008  
OpenID editdesk said...

I find "unlabeled" to be confusing as well. This gets to your point: Cramming a news feature into a 1-column hole is trouble.

8:59 AM, October 24, 2008  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

Leaving a preposition on the end of a deck was something I hated with a passion as well.

Oh, and F, Mr Cohen would like to remind you that the winning 1-kolm hed was "Libes Nabs Rag" and he sends his regards.

12:45 PM, October 24, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Mr. Cohen, living genius of the 1-kolm hed! His genius has been missed since we lost him to the nonprofit side. Tell him I/we said hi.

It is nice to be able to remind folks that the Dow Jones test will grade you off for hanging a preposition like that (tho the 1/36 is a sterner test of that principlethan anything the DJNF is looking for).

Splitting a hyphenated compound across lines is still forbidden almost everywhere (I've seen the Freep do it, but it's hard to tell if those are policy or train wreck). Some things are simply not meant for the single column.

As we sometimes had to remind the design desk: If "Palestinian" wouldn't fit in one column yesterday, why do you think it's going to fit today?

1:46 PM, October 24, 2008  

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