Thursday, April 28, 2016

The future of forbidden heds

Well, speak of the devil and he will surely sneak over and put his beer bottles in your recycling. No sooner do we learn that the Freep can start bagging its copydesk operations late next year than two -- count 'em, two -- Forbidden Heds show up on the front page.

First up, a double-dip on the Stupid Question: not just using the question mark as a hedge, but forming the question in a flagrantly ungrammatical way. Two rich dudes have declared their intent to bring a professional foopball team to town, which is fine and even newsworthy* -- but hardly raises the question of whether a franchise has been "scored." The headline's job is to tell me what happened, not what someone speculates might happen.

Regardless of the downtown back-scratching, that's not the kind of question the hed raises. You can form questions by sticking a question mark on the end of a statement, but that creates a distinctive form called an "echo question" that you might remember from "Apocalypse Now":

Lance: Hey, you know that last tab of acid I was saving? I dropped it.
Chef: You dropped acid? Far out!


That's a question, but it's very much not the same question as "Did you drop acid?" If you agree, avoid getting them mixed up in headlines ever again.

That's a "grammar" thing. "It's official" is just a cliche. You may remove it from any lede, or any subsequent graf, with no effect on the meaning. And that means you may never try to improve on a story by putting "it's official" in a hed. There are no exceptions -- no matter how important you think the story is, no matter how few times in your life you've seem "it's official." Just never.

What will hubbing do to the Great Cliches? I don't know, but if someone wants to stake that out as a research agenda, I'd really like to see the results. We've known for a while (I hope) that there's only so much mileage in being local. If the outsourced desk in Bangalore looks at a map while editing and you don't, they're going to catch a mistake you might miss. Will a centralized desk enforce chainwide rules against cliches in headlines, even if that's the suggestion from the originating paper? Or will a plague of "Christmas came early" break out of containment and spread all the faster?

I'd like to know, but I'd actually just rather have a local copydesk to complain about.

* Although it skates awfully close to Elongated Yellow Fruit territory when the perps are "the Michigan-bred businessmen" and "the Michigan State graduates" in the first two grafs

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