Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nov. 23: The fine art of headling writing...

For most stories (unless its something important like a statement by Donald Trump or news of a movie star's latest divorce), editors know that many, often most, readers look only at the headline. That makes the choice of headline a very important one. Even more, those who do read more of the story will still have their understanding of it affected by the headline.

Take the lead story in today's TandT "Time for Alward gov't to be bold:analysts".

Analysts - that's a power word. So who are the analysts?

The analysts are decent enough. They are two, local professors. But why didn't the headline read "Two, local professors say....." Well, that's not nearly as impressive as "Analysts Say..." is it?

And what is meant by bold? In this context, it means doing something the voters don't want. If a government wants to do the dirty, this is the time to do it because it still has lots of time for people to forget before the election.

So a more accurate headline would be "Two professors say now is the time for Alward to do the dirty"

But that's not nearly as impressive as "Time for Alward gov't to be bold: analysts"

And, in fact, most of the story isn't about that, anyway. It's mostly a report that it's budget time, and that there's some talk of changing some ridings.

But editors know that with the right choice of words, you can make the headline the story that people remember - no matter what the story is really about.

Another sample concerns the federal government in a story in NewsToday. "Stimulus spending 'largely achieved' objective".  In fact, the story says no such thing.


It begins with the story of how the federal government promised to spend some billions for job creation. Now, what's the ojective of that? Surely, it's to create jobs. But, according to the story, it has been impossible for the auditor general to find out how many jobs were created, largely because of the way the government keeps its figures.

So what was the objective that the government 'largely achieved'?

Spending billions of dollars. For real. That's what the story says - not quite the triumph the headline suggests.

Same page - this time about Egypt - "Generals promise civilian rule". Well, that's comforting, isn't it?
But the story is about the military, which is profoundly detested and distrusted by the population ( and which is equipped by the US in the form of "aid"), has been killing protesters. The protesters don't believe they're going to get any real democracy. And they're almost certainly right. At least 36 protesters have been killed, and more than 250,000 wounded. (It began when the government (which is really the military, proposed a constitution that would make the military permanently independent of any civilian control.)

But you wouldn't guess any of that, would you, from a headline that says "Generals promise civilian rule."

Then, in Your Business, the headline "Alberta tops in 'economic freedom' survey".  Well, that sounds good. I mean 'tops' and 'freedom' are good words. They're nice.

Then read the story. The survey was conducted by The Fraser Insitute, a far right wing propaganda agency for big business. "Freedom" means freedom for big business to do what it wants - avoid taxes, pollute, avoid any social responsibility... By those standards, the Chicago of Al Capone would be reported as "Chicago tops in economic freedom:survey".

For many people, probably most, headlines ARE the story. Editors know that. Lying ones use them for that purpose.

What wasn't in the paper? Well - Russia, which opposes western intervention in Syria, has warships that arrived at least a day ago in Syrian waters. The US has beefed up its own Mediterranean fleet with a super carrier and its escorts. Canada has posted a frigate in the same waters.  NewsToday didn't have room for this. It had a big story on how not to choose a password for your computer.

On a sad but largely personal note (few readers will be old enough to have heard of Hal Patterson or Sam Etcheverry), Hal Pattersoon died yesterday. Sam died two years ago.

Etcheverry and Patterson, one the quarterback and the other the deep receiver and runner for the Montreal Alouettes, were the most electrifying figures I ever saw on a football field. I never met Hal. But I did know Etcheverry, He was a fine person, and his respect for Patterson suggested to me that Patterson was as fine off the field as he was on it.

It's hard to explain. But I wish I were a kid again and seeing, all over again, Sam taking the snap behind his own goal line, and completing that high, arching pass way down the field to Patterson for a touchdown.

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