Friday, July 23, 2010

Heds without clues

Sigh. Yes, we teach that one of the best ways to write a straight-up news hed is to look for a subject, a verb and a direct object. The first case of who-did-what-to-whom you run across in the first independent clause is likely to be the reason the story is in the paper in the first place.*

There is, of course, a sanity clause -- or, put another way, a common-sense clause. At each step of the process, you're supposed to step back and ask "so what?" or words to that effect. And in this case, "Mommy! Billy's throwing gasoline!" is probably not the story you were looking for. What the wise copy editor wants here is another complement as well. Say, for example:

He appeared before a Wake County magistrate Thursday to answer charges that he threw gasoline on his girlfriend and her son while the two sat inside a motor vehicle, court records show.

For the record, he says he did not try to set them on fire, either. But if you need to call the originating paper and track down enough detail to write "Man accused of assaulting woman, child," there's the phone.

Get the idea? When your first hed idea amounts to "Man drives car," see if you can find a prepositional bread crumb or two -- "off cliff," "into bank lobby," "at speeds topping 300 mph" -- that makes matters a bit more interesting. News is supposed to be, you know, newslike. If you wouldn't read beyond the lame hed you wrote, why should anyone else? 

* For convenience's sake, we're going to leave out the "accused of" part, OK? Naturally you'll be mindful of the presumption of innocence when you put these lessons into action.

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