Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Did too! Did not! Did too! Did not!

America's Newspapers weigh in on the impact of the Wikileaks revelations about the war in Afghanistan, and what's their verdict? Creates doubt! Deepens doubt! Panic! Don't panic! Change! No change! Big deal! No deal!

It's hard to have a clearer illustration of the rule about "may" heds. You can always replace a "may" with a "then again, may not." And when you can replace your hed with a negated version, you almost certainly have the wrong hed.

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3 Comments:

Blogger John Cowan said...

Sometimes "may" heads are unavoidable, particularly when dealing with scientific/technical/medical content. When a discovery is news, it is usually not yet confirmed; it would be totally irresponsible to write a head like "New drug cures tongue cancer". So you wind up with "New drug may lead to tongue cancer breakthrough" or the like, that being all that is safe to say.

10:39 AM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

I understand the hedge, and I've probably written more of those heds over the years than I'd like to be confronted with.

If I were pope of journalism, though, I'd still want all rimrats to be comfy enough with quanty thinking to produce "In study, new drug delays spread of tongue cancer" or "New drug improves QoL among older tongue cancer patients in study."

Granted, that's kind of predicated on a reading public that associates "study" with "p < .05" rather than "MIRACLE CURE!!!!!" But, hell -- look at the stuff we expect them to understand anyway. One of the big freeways was closed down for about 20 hours the other day for a hydrogen peroxide spill, and I'd love to know how many AM radio listeners got any relevant information out of "there's a hazmat situation on the Blank."

12:22 AM, July 28, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This may show the ignorance of the headline writers more than anything. They simply don't know the subject matter.

10:09 AM, July 28, 2010  

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