Saturday, January 10, 2009

That's what he was when they found him

Striking unanimity among the Illinois fishwraps this morning, eh? Not so much the choice of lead story (even for the most up-to-date present- ation editor, the impeachment of the chief executive is hard to ignore) as the nature of the heds. Only one of eight bothers to include the subject ("Blagojevich"); for the rest, it's just IMPEACHED, above, beside or within a picture of the governor. James Thurber ("Dead. That's what the man was when they found him") must be smiling.

I don't think the topic-comment approach is necessarily bad, misleading or wrong. I do think the evidence suggests that we've passed some sort of watershed in the collective understanding of what makes for necessary elements in a headline or presentation. We're probably not entirely at the rebus stage yet, though that could get kind of interesting too.

It should go without saying that there are far, far worse ap- proaches to the Blago hed than "Im- peached." Charlotte and Detroit manage to get almost everything wrong:
Ill. House votes to impeach
Ill. House OKs impeachment
Sigh. One, Illinois is near the top of the list of States You Never Abbreviate If You Can Help It. It's fun in lots of ways depending on the font, from the numeric
Ill. Men Charged In Mass. Murder
to the Noahic
Ark. Man Kills Ill. Livestock
Two, the active voice is the enemy of cops-and-courts reporting. Particularly in unique-actor cases (you can't get an impeachment at the Home Depot), the object is nearly always more pertinent than the subject.
Three -- pace Orwell, S&W and more news writing gurus than you can shake a bludgeon at -- it's entirely possible for an active subject-verb-object sentence to be indirect. That often comes about when writers fall into the trap of emphasizing process over outcome, leading to sound-like-your-sources yawners on the order of "Police executed a search warrant" (rather than "Police searched a house") or "Police made an arrest" (rather than "Police arrested a naked, screaming, ax-wielding City Council member").

There's nothing wrong with writing an obvious hed, as long as you meet the underlying obligation of the hed business: Tell me why today is different from yesterday. "It's official" and "Pain at the pump" can't do that. "Governor impeached," on the other hand, does it pretty well.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one case where the postal state symbols do a body better than the AP-sanctioned traditional abbreviations. "IL" is not so easy to confuse with anything else.

10:37 PM, January 10, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

Good point, and a good argument for not doing stuff the old way merely because we've always done it that way. Still, I would admit to a little possible confusion with AR (AZ) and AK (AR) -- might be just me, might be worth considering before we declare the style change.

Are you sure you don't want to take a swing at the rebus? I was sorta hoping somebody would ...

11:46 PM, January 10, 2009  

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