Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Reality (Really Does) Bite!

The Headline War Is Raging!

Of course, this "war" has always raged and will continue raging long after the 2004 presidential election is over. The NYTimes wants to sell more papers than The NYPost. The Boston Globe wants to sell more papers than The Boston Herald, and so on and so forth ad infinitum dot dot dot

Everyone knows that the headline is the story. How many times have you read a story that has very little to do with the headline? If the story actually does have something to do with the headline, the meaty part is 6 paragraphs into the story?

I rest my trial lawyer lovin' case.

Yesterday, I posted my disgust with CNN's blatant misrepresentation of presidential polling results. That article really frosted my cookies! So I googled "headlines" and "average reader" to see what would happen.

I culled the following snipits from an article on the importance of headlines in advertising, all of which (in my humble opinion) reflect the problem with news media headlines today:
The purpose of a headline is to pick out people you can interest. You wish to talk to someone in a crowd. So the first thing you say is, "Hey there, Bill Jones" to get the right persons attention. So it is in an advertisement. What you have will interest certain people only, and for certain reasons. You care only for those people. Then create a headline which will hail those people only.

Headlines on ads are like headlines on news items. Nobody reads a whole newspaper. One is interested in financial news, one in political, one in society, one in cookery, one in sports, etc. There are whole pages in any newspaper which we may never scan at all.

The writing of headlines is one of the greatest journalistic arts. They either conceal or reveal an interest.

People are hurried. The average person worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the reading matter which they pay to get.

People will not be bored in print. They want to be amused or benefited. They want economy, beauty, labor savings, good things to eat and wear.

Often scores of headlines are discarded before the right one is selected. For the entire return from an ad depends on attracting the right sort of readers.

So we compare headlines until we know what sort of appeal pays best.

Address the people you seek, and them only.

Speaking truth to power has become a joke.

The NYTimes can't even report that Senator John Kerry's lead in Pennsylvania is well outside the margin of error among registered voters!

The headline: Kerry Takes a Slight Lead in Pennsylvania

The reality: Kerry Leads Bush 46-41 in Pennsylvania
Or this: Bush Trails Kerry by 5% in Pennsylvania

And don't even get me started on the NYTimes' use of the passive voice to describe Kerry's lead!

The Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday found Kerry was backed by 46 percent of voters, President Bush by 41 percent and independent Ralph Nader by 5 percent.

That's Kerry's largest lead in a three-way race in the state since the Massachusetts senator emerged as his party's presidential pick in March.

A Quinnipiac poll last month showed Kerry and Bush deadlocked, 43 percent to 42 percent, with Nader at 7 percent.

The following NYT headlines (July 14, 2004) really bite:

Kerry Takes a Slight Lead in Pennsylvania
Medicare Law Is Seen Leading to Cuts in Drug Benefits for Retirees
Strategy: In Bush's War Room, the Gloves Are Always Off
Gay-Marriage Ban Faces Loss in Early Vote
Schwarzenegger's Match: Getting a Budget Passed LINK

Today's assignment:

Rewrite the above headlines, speaking truth to power.

I'll post the best reality biting headlines tomorrow.


Post a Comment

<< Home