Friday, July 15, 2005

Some really awful heds

Dear copy editors, a reminder: Before you pull the trigger on a hed or set of heds, look at it in context and see what it -- and you -- are saying.

Today's object lesson is the so-called "terror digest" from a major southeastern fount o'knowledge. The label is a bit of a problem from the start: Is it a roundup of terror, of anti-terror, of stuff that might be tangentially related to "terror"? What qualifies as "terror," and whose agenda gets a free pass when an event becomes part of the "terror digest"?

But the real issue here is the heds beneath the label and what they, as a package, say. Let's dismiss the obligatory stupid question hed first:

Transit safety not federal burden?
Without the auxiliary verb, you can't even tell whether this is an editorial hed -- "Is transit safety not a federal burden?" being a rhetorical question after Shylock's "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" -- or an inept version of a news hed, based on the entirely unfounded belief that putting a question mark on a declarative sentence is somehow a form of attribution. In this case, the reader is justified in wondering not only "why are you asking me?" but "what are you asking me?" Please, stop the madness.

But the real problem is with the other three heds in the TERROR DIGEST (keep an eye on the label, because -- like a reader -- you need to have it sitting right over the heds):

Muslim support falls for bin Laden
Muslims condemn violence in TV ad
U.S. denies entry to British Muslim

On statistical grounds, I'd like to see the methodology that allegedly sustains a hed like the first one (and on grammatical grounds, whether the writer intended "falls" or "falls for" to be the verb). But that's a low-bore concern in light of the paper's evident belief that TERROR DIGEST and ISLAM DIGEST are pretty much the same thing. Didn't the buzzer go off for anybody when the page proofs came up?

Favorite sermon: Readers have no idea what you think. They only see what you say.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

is this terror digest a one-time deal or something you guys are running all the time?

11:15 PM, July 17, 2005  

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