Tuesday, July 05, 2016

News pragmatics: As heads is tails

A lot of the underlying rules of journalism are pretty clear, even if we don't spell them out in the textbooks.* You might never have written a headline in your life, but you can tell when somebody bollixes the assumptions about how proper names work in heds,  because that's how you've been brought along. "McDonnell arrested" (or Obama, or Snyder, or Scalia, or Yastrzemski) in a headline doesn't mean Jim-Bob McDonnell down the block has been shooting bottle rockets at passing cars again, because he'd be "local man" or "OCC student" (or "Harvard graduate," or "failed entrepreneur," or "crazed Vietnam veteran," or any of the other social/occupational categories we have at hand). The name means it's somebody you already know.

First names are similar, though the social land mines are more concealed. Your "everybody calls her Hillary!" might run into a "well, I don't," or it might not. But generally, when you see a given name in a hed, it's because someone assumes a Lebron-like level of mutual understanding:
Because when a workplace dispute goes bad -- how's that again, Fox10?
A Walmart employee upset over a missed promotion took his manager and another employee hostage Tuesday before he was fatally shot by police, according to the Amarillo Police Department.
... the first hed you'd write is "Dave from Lubbock shot dead," right?
Hence, of course, the Drudge hed from Monday morning at top (the "Mohammad" play was June 14; see if you can figure out why). You're not supposed to wonder whether this Khan is Genghiz, or Samir, or Irving; it's a Khan, and it's plotting terrorism! Whether the plot involved oh, flying a single-engine plane into a federal building is irrelevant; beauty is truth, and truth Khan, and GAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
So if you're wondering whether there's any evidence that the party press is openly, deeply, fundamentally racist -- of course there is. That's kind of how things work.

* Because then we couldn't tell whether you knew the secret handshakes, could we?

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