Thursday, February 04, 2010

Cheesy hed makes reader hork

Addressing the reader directly in heds is never a good idea. In this case, it's out-and-out misleading. The hed says the pasta could make me sick. And the story?

Pierino Frozen Foods Inc. is recalling some of its Jumbo Shells with Cheese because the labels don’t list eggs.

The company says those allergic to eggs may suffer serious or life-threat­ening reactions if they consume these products.

Oops. The hed writer lied to me. Quite a few foodborne illnesses might indeed make me sick. But since I'm not allergic to eggs, there's no risk to "me" -- or to anyone else who doesn't have this allergy.

Direct-address heds are usually just annoying. Here, by applying a load of cheesy, Gannetty personalization, we cross the line into ineptitude. That's not a good way to make yourself welcome over breakfast.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:10 AM, February 04, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

Sorry. Updated with the link to the briefs column online. (The original is from the 'digital' version, which sometimes differs and isn't -- far as I know -- linkable.)

10:42 AM, February 04, 2010  
Blogger John Cowan said...

I have to disagree here. In public health warnings, this kind of language is justifiable. For example, if the message is to avoid people who are infected with X, it is not misleading merely because some readers have been vaccinated against X and therefore have nothing to worry about.

For that matter, the signs that warn you not to touch poison ivy don't apply to the 10% minority who aren't allergic to it. Egg allergy, while not as widespread as poison-ivy allergy, is common and nasty enough that unlabeled egg dishes are a significant risk.

10:53 AM, February 04, 2010  
Blogger Girl with the Interesting Hair said...

I'm gonna disagree with Mr. Cowan. perhaps if the hed had referenced eggs, it might make sense. I'd infer from this headline that the cheesiness was to blame. "Pasta recalled, eggs omitted from ingredient list"

Ummm, I'm not a headline writer...

11:32 AM, February 04, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

The problem for me is that the things that make specific riskcomm messages (in general) better attended and more likely to be heeded aren't in play here. If you say "YOUR CAR MAY HAVE DEATH ACCELERATOR," you give both Toyota owners and non-Toyota owners distorted ideas of the risk they face. The people who should worry might under-worry, and the people who don't need to worry might clog up the system when it needs to be fixing Toyotas, not Saturns.

This isn't a general foodborne illness recall (with the specific set of associations that evokes), which the hed implies. It's a particular kind of allergy-related recall. GwtIH is on the right track; I'd go with something like "egg allergy risk cited" for the second line.

11:32 PM, February 04, 2010  

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