Saturday, April 02, 2005

News to Me

THE WORLD PRAYS.

No, it doesn't. I'm picking on the Miami Herald headline because the Herald was one of the first papers I saw this morning, but I'm sure many papers defaulted to similar treacle in light of the unfortunate papal situation.

I'm sorry to be so crass, but there is a lesson to be learned here about inclusiveness. Not everyone is a Catholic. Not everyone is a Christian. Not everyone believes in God. Not everyone thinks religion is a force for good. A large majority of the world's people, I'm sure, are sorry to see an old man dying, but a great many don't think kneeling and whispering will make things better.

Most examples of this kind of presumptuous writing are less profound than coverage of a papal deathbed. Breezy references to "taking the kids for hamburgers," for instance, assume that everybody's a parent and nobody's a vegetarian. I'm not saying that we must screen every sentence for possible offense to transsexual nudist vegans, but we do need to avoid writing with a smug sense of "everybody's like me."

13 comments:

M@ said...

Thank you. As an atheist I'm tired of reading headlines about what I'm praying for these days. When the CBC tells me "CANADA PRAYS FOR POPE", either I'm not a Canadian or the headline is wrong. You'd think the fact checkers would have caught that.

Incidentally, in Canada's two biggest cities, they estimate that "visible minorities" will make up half or more of the population by 2017. In Canada, that means mostly central or south-east Asian and African immigrants; the Christian component of our immigrant mix is quite low. Despite the news media's extensive reporting of this incredible development, they seem to be ignoring its practical impact on their editorial work.

Ellie said...
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Andrew Phelps said...

Bless you, Bill Walsh.

sixten said...

"The World" can't literally pray, so we're obviously dealing with a figure of speech here. Isn't this just a bit of synecdochic license in a league with "A Nation Mourns"?

Though it wouldn't be my choice of headline, a whole lot of people distributed throughout the world are praying, so it is a figuratively true statement. Ambiguous (perhaps deliberately), but true.

Dr Zen said...

I think you're right, Bill. "The nation mourns" is okay for events where one might expect the average citizen to mourn (9/11, say) and where a paper might even be taking to suggest that nation *ought to* mourn (the death of a monarch, perhaps). But this is a step too far, especially considering those who pray will be far outnumbered by those who do not!

Diego Sorbara said...

I totally agree. Although looking through the heds of the big U.S. papers, I'm finding that I like the simpler heds a lot more than the ones that try to pack some sort of emotional wallop. Yeah, "Requiem" or "The People's Pope" sound nice, but for me it was all summed up nicely with "John Paul II dies" (I think that was the Chicago Tribune's).

kirahb said...

Though I too am not Christian, complaining about a headline printed in a paper from a city that is nearly 40% Roman Catholic is a waste of time.
We live in a country that is currently represented by a man who openly asks for God's guidance and encourages Bible-approved behaviors like abstinence, traditional rites of marriage(though not for homosexuals, of course), and the non-existent American Nuc-u-lar family. Unfortunately, as the President goes, so goes the media.
We can groan and wriggle with discomfort when our assumed sub-cultural values are being tromped on, but there isn't much to be done about it, yet.
We cannot change the editorial powers-that-be by whining about headlines. The only course of action is to step out of the boundaries of the traditional methods of journalism and create a movement, be it underground or above-board, toward a more honest representation of who Americans truly are today.

bphillong said...

As an editor who works at a newspaper, I would prefer to hear complaints from readers about headlines, instead of having the reader avoid the product that currently produces my livelihood, such as it is.

A group of copy editors at papers where I work had a round-robin e-mail discussion today about headlines about the pope. There were a variety of views, but a couple of editors suggested we were overanalyzing the issues that had been raised about diversity and endorsing religion.

Editors who have not received any reader complaints about their headlines aren't going to believe they're insensitive or generalizing too much. Complain enough to have them stop and think before they write headlines, but not so often or vituperatively that your complaints are dismissed as the work of a crank.

James d. said...

I tend to lean towards the idea that it is a figurative term, just as if a nation's leader said so-and-so nation was praying for someone, that leader would not literally mean every citizen.
But I think "The World Prays" is just a bad headline regardless; it's vague as to make it meaningless. Even something like "The World Remembers" would be better, just because it implies noticing the pope's passing, something that certainly most people did at some point.

Bridey Murphy said...
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Bridey Murphy said...

A Roman Catholic here (ooh, scary!) who could also stand to see less presumptuous headlines than "The World Prays," since it patently does not.

What we have here is secular media trying to address something that has deep meaning to (those strange and inexplicable) religious people. It's no surprise that they will misstep in what is doubtless an honest attempt to be respectful to Catholic feeling (for a change).

"Pope John Paul II Dies" was a fine headline.

Giganti said...
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Giganti said...

Here's an interesting article, in response to kirahb's comments:

http://www.economist.com/world/na/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3502861