Saturday, October 23, 2010

Design fail: Cheers!

This one needs a bit of back story. Along with their generous three days a week of home delivery, the local fishwraps provide an online facsimile of the print edition. You can browse through it page by page and click on articles, photos or ads to get a readable version. With stories, one click gets you to a text-only mode, and the second click yields a full-size view of the article and its illustration.

Except when the program outsmarts itself, as seems to have been the case here. The art is meant to illustrate a top-of-the-page blurb promoting today's beer festival at Eastern Market, but when you click on the news briefs, guess what comes up?

It's an ambiguous design at best anyway, even with the (annoying) color screens. The simple solution would be to move the art to the right of the text. If that breaks a house rule -- well, break it!

The writing in the banker story isn't getting any better:

A funeral was held Friday in Detroit for Mt. Clemens bank president and CEO David Widlak, days after his body was found floating in Lake St. Clair and after a private autopsy commissioned by his family showed he was shot execution-style in the back of the neck.

That's one too many "after" clauses for me. And the bizarre participial adjective "shot" makes its way into heds on consecutive pages -- in addition to the "shot bank CEO" here, we have "Shot parole absconder is turned in" on 4A.

I think the hed writers are inferring a rule on the order of "any past participle can become a preposed adjective with the meaning of 'that was' or 'who was.'" Alas, there ain't no such animal. Some participles do. "Buried treasure" is treasure that was buried, and we couldn't write crime heds if "slain" didn't mean (as the OED puts it) "that has been slain; killed; slaughtered." Others need some help. "Eaten" survives with "half-eaten" or "moth-eaten," but "the eaten pizza" doesn't work.*  Still others have specific and limited uses, like the "killed virus" in vaccines.

"Shot" has some of both: special uses like "shot herring" and "shot velvet," along with compounds like "shot-down" and "shot-up." But the only cite meaning "person who was hit by a shot" looks pretty literary. I'd rule it out for heds.

Why did it show up? I suppose, given the dueling autopsies and the slight shadow of a doubt in the newer one, the desk wanted to avoid "slain," and "dead" seems pretty redundant given that it's a funeral. "For banker found dead in lake" might work.

But first things first. Preview the page before you publish it, and if the result is embarrassing -- as this hed-and-art collision certainly is -- fix it. Sheez.

* Except for the Swinburne cite, that usage looks like it faded out early in Modern English.



Anonymous Picky said...

Strangely, while adjectival "shot" would sound fine in a British newspaper head, all the "slays" and "slayings" and "slains" aren't in our headline vocabulary over here. Perhaps your local sheet has been reduced to hiring British subs.

11:44 AM, October 23, 2010  

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