Monday, May 07, 2007

See Below

If you write headlines, you're bound to hear from readers, writers, your bosses and the assistant circulation director's second cousin from time to time about how a headline somehow lacked the "nuance" and "sophistication" of the story below it.

I take the criticism to heart when a headline fails to fit the facts or the tone of a story, but in general I try to retain my sanity by reminding myself, and the complainers, that 1,235 words will generally paint a more nuanced and sophisticated picture than, say, nine words. (Or, hell, 1,234.)

John McIntyre, assistant managing editor for copy desks at the Baltimore Sun, offers some words to live by:
A headline -- please keep this in mind -- is inherently elliptical and approximate. The text has the exact, detailed information. The headline is a suggestion that you should read the damn story.


Jackie said...

Definitely a good point, and something I struggle with as the copy editor of a college newspaper.

By 1:30 a.m., I usually go for "clear" over "creative," since most late-night attempts at nuance (or puns, God help us) come out all wrong. In Newsday today, on the recent rash of injuries among Mets outfielders:

They're putting 'out' in outfield; Green headed to DL?

I knew what they really meant, but I still giggled. Especially when I skipped to the final quote:

"I was lucky then," Green said. "Maybe I'll be lucky again.",0,7735633.story?coll=ny-mets-print

First post here, and love your blog!

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Headlines can be approximate - but they can still get you sued. As a sub (copy editor here in the UK), I'd rather we were sued for contentious body copy rather than for an inaccurate headline on an otherwise legally sound story (trust me; it's happened before). Of course, best not to be sued at all...