Thursday, July 10, 2008

Journalism 101: Write Accurate Headlines

The Dunn-Rankin ranks have been trying to put a good face on the economic downturn by running lots of stories in their newspapers recently that tell readers things aren't as bad as everyone else makes out. Of course, readers aren't stupid and most probably ignore the boosterism, seeing it for what it is.

But clearly, the headline writers got management's memo, and they're willing to play along. The deck on today's top story from Our Little Town: "DeSoto building activity shows some signs of recovery."

Unfortunately for journalism, readers can read the six-graf masterpiece all day without once stumbling on the word "recovery" or any hint of the idea. Neither is there any effort by the reporter to compare the news -- county commisioners approve three commercial development plans -- with same-time-last-year data or even last-month or last-quarter figures.

At a real newspaper, a sharp-eyed editor would demand: Recovery from what, exactly? and then bounce the hed or the story (should be both) back for a rewrite.

But there seems to be no sharp copy editor around to do that -- or at least not one to willing to buck the memo. As a result, a headline unsupported by the story delivers a false impression of the news while giving readers a specific look at the biases and carelessness that govern The Daily Excuse.

For Old Word Wolf's take on today's X-rated banner, you'll have to read below the fold.

A recent letter to the editor begged publishers not to discontinue their newspapers in the schools program. This morning, Old Word Wolf is trying to think how, exactly, she would explain today's banner to the class. Her usual first strategy is to help the cubs locate a dictionary -- often a group activity. Once the M's are accessed, the closest thing they'd find to "mons venus" is "mons venerius." In Merriam-Webster's, that discovery rewards them with a blunt directive to see "mons pubis."

The kids aren't quite wide-eyed with delight yet, but they will be as soon as they deciper "the rounded eminence of fatty tissue on the pubic prominence, esp. of the human female." If they happen to use Webster's New World dictionary, they get the added helpful hint, "which becomes covered with hair at puberty," and no translation is apt to be needed at all.

Fortunately, OWW is fully prepared to deconstruct Latin puns, even ribald ones. But it remains up to each DeSoto County school teacher to individually determine how to incorporate "Mons Venus Nude" into her community newspaper lesson plan. Any questions, class?


  1. I can hear it from above: "Hey, let's stick "NUDE" above the fold in bright red and see if more papers sell."
    Or perhaps it's to jolt us awake in the morning. Nothing like a little tease to go with my coffee. Now I'm awake!!

  2. Fortunately, my kids are on summer break from school -- but they got this at home and others probably saw it in the sidewalk boxes. Shame on the Sun.