Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On making stuff up: Don't

Well, at least one of our two metro dailies managed to look around for a news story for the Monday front. And this is sort of like one. Trouble is, nothing in it supports the headline, leading to the inevitable conclusion that the hed was made up to reflect what was talked about at the budget meeting.

The News is the right-wing part of our entertaining little JOA, but that doesn't and shouldn't suggest a left-right split on every issue. The Freep is a loud, silly tabloid in broadsheet form that occasionally ends up on the Democratic side of the aisle; the News runs more stories for grownups but is burdened by the foil-helmet crowd running the opinion pages. It'd be inappropriate to suggest that the News ran a fabricated hed just to make the Kenyan Muslim socialists look bad, because this is the same sort of fabricated hed the competition (like many newspapers around the nation) runs all the time. It takes a data point and, entirely without evidence, turns it into a Trend, because -- well, if it isn't true, it ought to be, dammit.

For desk hands, the takeaway point is this. If you want to assert a fact in a hed -- something's increasing, or some candidate has clawed his or her way to the top, or These Kids are stepping on Our Lawns more often -- you need to know exactly where in the story your readers can find the evidence that supports the alleged fact. Once you get there, you can start tearing apart the evidence, but that's another lesson. For now: If the story doesn't say it, don't use the display type to pretend it does.



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