Sunday, May 21, 2017

“Editing: Standards in Action” for newspapers (and online editions). Chapter 5.2: “Headlines: In a Nutshell”.


Excerpts from The New York Times’ “Learning Network” are below explaining how to write a proper headline.

Another recent goof in The Palm Beach Post, ironically on the very same day they announced results of the Green Eyeshade Awards.
An understanding of homophones is helpful but outside the scope of this lesson.

On the heels of the latest news about The Palm Beach Post we can only hope the latest round of layoffs didn’t include any experienced headline editors. However, whoever got the job of writing headlines last January goofed in a very big way.

There’s a big difference in public perception between an “ordinance” and a “curfew”.
Headlines are “about six words the need to reflect the article accurately . . . a good headline is based on the lead.”

It’s important to note the reporter never used the word “curfew” at all in the article — not one single time — it’s also important to note the headline above appeared 1½ months prior to election day here in the little City of Lake Worth (the elections in March 2016).

That headline was all part of the silliness in January 2016 by the media and the press. Election season can bring out the worst from reporters sometimes. Remember the “forced relocation” and another story that ended up being retracted?

Anyhow, election season begins once again here in the City of Lake Worth after July 5th.* In the meantime, as a public service, learn how to monitor the media and press so what happened last year doesn’t happen again. Let’s learn about headlines from The New York Times:

The line editor (who could be a desk editor or copy editor) writes the headline for the article; usually there’s room for about six words that need to reflect the article accurately and attract readers. An inexperienced editor who has trouble writing a headline might be tempted to try to write a headline on a secondary angle of the article, but a good headline is based on the lead. [emphasis added]
     Headlines are written in the historical present tense. That means they written are in present tense but describe events that just happened. The exception to that is when you’re reporting on something that happened quite some time ago. If information just became available on attendance figures for the last school year for example, the headline might say, “Attendance Improved Last Year.”

and. . .

    There are some shortcuts that most newspapers allow in headlines (but few of these shortcuts are seen in The New York Times). To save space, most papers let editors drop forms of the verb “to be” and the articles “a” “an” and “the.” The headline writer can also let a comma substitute for “and.”
     What the headline writer should try to avoid — and online papers seem to be big offenders here — is to let one thought in a headline break from one line to the next.
     That is called a bad break, or wraparound. To avoid bad breaks, keep adjectives and their nouns, and keep verbs and their auxiliary verbs and adverbs, on the same line. Don’t let prepositional phrases start on one line and finish on the next. Bad breaks make headlines hard to read, and editors of online papers need to make their publications as reader-friendly as possible.

So. Headline editing is also important in the online edition as well, not just the print edition. Over the next few weeks see if you can spot a “bad break” and also see if the online edition of the Post is as “reader-friendly as possible.”

And accurate too. The job of the press and editors is to educate the public about things like ordinances and curfews: before and after election day.

*Until July 5th, the day after our 16th Annual Great American Raft Race, this blog is “An Official Election-Free Zone”.

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