Friday, October 03, 2008

How not to write heds

Lesson #2 of headline writing -- right behind the one about finding the main clause in the lede and identifying the simple subject and simple predicate -- is easy: Put away the crystal ball. (Lesson #2A: This means you.) As in this example:

WALL STREET CRISIS
Congress to
be quick with
bailout plan

That would be a fairly risky hed even on today's news. For Sept. 22, which is when it appeared, it was amazingly dumb -- especially given a lede this obvious to work with:

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to calm the biggest upheaval on Wall Street since the Great Depression, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insisted Sunday that Congress act quickly on a $700-billion rescue plan.

Bad hed from the outset. The story's about what Paulson said, not about what Congress is going to do. But it's the wild guess about the future that really puts the olive in the old martini of pain. It looked silly the day it appeared, and it's gotten worse with each passing day.

Even if you think the outcome is a lock -- leaders of both parties, in both houses, saying on the record that the votes are there -- it's always safer to talk about what is ("quick action predicted") rather than what you think might be.

Easy fix:
Paulson asks
Congress to
speed bailout

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