Friday, March 16, 2012

2B or not 2B, that's the question

First, there was the headline about a golf tournament playoff that wasn't, and then there was the headline that referred to a sports writer instead of a United States Senator. The two, both in The News & Observer this week, are what moved me to today's column and reminded me about the art and craft of headline writing when I was a student at NC State University, writing and editing for The Technician, the student newspaper.
The excuse these days is simple. There's just not enough staff to give thought to writing headlines. Many newspaper editors and publishers, especially with cutbacks to personnel working the nighttime deadline shift when the newspaper is put to bed (that's newspaper jargon for being finished with the writing and editing and layout and sending to the press what the readers will see the next day), blame bad headlines and mistakes in headlines on not having enough people or the right people to handle that job.

Writing headlines is a craft that seems to have been forgotten. It's not just applicable to The N&O, but since that's what I read daily, that's where I find the mistakes and lack of headline-writing thought. It's obvious that headline writers are in a hurry to finish the task. That's when mistakes are made. As a regular reader of The N&O (which, by the way, helps keep me regular nearly every morning, if you get my drift), I discover the errors and I have fun re-writing a banner or two. Here are the two mistakes from this week's The N&O.

The first (Mon, March 12) declared Justin Rose takes Doral with win in playoff which was not close to reality. There was not a playoff. He won that World Golf Championship event by shooting a final round 70, posting a four-day total of 272, then waited and watched as Bubba Watson missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole that, if it had gone in, would have forced a playoff. The headline writer obviously scanned the first two paragraphs of the story, saw the word "playoff" and penned story title. It could have said: Steady Rose rallies to win at Doral. To make matters worse, the headline writer, in the sub-headline, wrote Tiger Woods reinjures tendon, forced to finish early when actually, Woods didn't finish the round and he wasn't forced to do anything. He reinjured his tendon and voluntarily withdrew, not completing the final round. That sub-headline should have read: Woods withdraws after reinjuring tendon.

Today (Fri, Mar 16), the headline writer obviously confused former (and the late) Alaska Senator Ted Stevens with the longtime N&O prep sports editor/writer Tim Stevens. They both wear glasses (not sure if Ted was buried with his on); they both have gray hair (Ted's hairline recedes little more than Tim's); Ted served in the United States Senate, representing Alaska; Tim still serves at The N&O, representing Garner and high schools across North Carolina. Not sure how this happened. Ted's name is in the fourth line of the story on page 6 of the front section of the paper; Tim's name is on the next to last page of today's sports section. Someone wasn't thinking when that headline was written: Misconduct found in Tim Stevens prosecution.

At the bottom of the front of today's Triangle & Co. section is the headline Out with RBC, in with PNC at arena when better would have been Out with RBC Center, in with PNC Arena or Down with the old RBC, up with the new PNC.

Then there was the headline on Burgetta Eplin Wheeler's column Raleigh woman uses her blog to share a year of hugs leading us to believe the story is about her blog when it is really about Melinda Schmitt's desire and effort to fulfill a desire and "to create connections and spread kindness through her touch," as Wheeler reported. Maybe a better headline would have been: A tugging for hugging spreads joy and love.

There's an art to writing headlines, but most of the time that's what draws the reader to the writer so writers should give more thought and be a little less hurried especially to keep from making the Ted-Tim kind of mistake. And, being clever is always a good way to draw the reader to the story. In the 1975 April Fool's editon of The Technician, the lead story was about Jesse Helms being appointed to succeed retiring Chancellor John Caldwell. To make fun of headline writers, the banner screamed Helms Tops Top State Post In Flash Pick! But, you get the idea on headline creativity.

As for the story behind today's headline neatly written at the top of this column, it comes directly from an article in a mid-1970s edition of The Technician. At NC State baseball home, Doak Field, the outfield fence was no more than a four-feet high picket type barrier without a covering. Students would sit beyond the fence and watch the games through the wooden pickets. Here's what happened, to the best of my recollection, at one of the games: Down by a run in the bottom of the final inning and a man on first base, the Wolfpack batter slammed a ball over the left fielder's head. It fell near the fence, either inside the park and bounced over or it landed over the fence. The umpire called it a home run, and State won the game. The left fielder and the opposing coach argued that the ball landed on the warning track and bounced over the fence, which would have been a ground-rule double and put runners on second and third. The game would have continued. The home run ruling stood but questions about it lingered. The game story chronicled the situation and thus the headline: 2B or not 2B, that's the question
MISTAKE UPDATE: I'll admit to my share of mistakes in print, misspelling of words, typographical errors, etc., but finding such in The N&O is a hobby not only for me but for many of its readers. Today, (Sun, Mar 18) the latest discovery was on page 1A, in the story: In N.C., 'Hunger Games' finds grit and brillance. The writer is referencing movies filmed in North Carolina, and when he mentions "Dirty Dancing" he says it was filmed at Luke Lure. Of course, he meant Lake Lure where some of the scenes of the movie were filmed. It's hard to believe it's just a typo when the "a" is on the left most position on one row of the keyboard and the "u" is to the right of middle on the line above. And, to carry it a step further, on the back of the Arts&Living section, page 12D, there's a story, Go 'Dirty Dancing' at hotel, about the Mountain Lake Hotel in Pembroke VA where parts of Dirty Dancing not filming in North Carolina were filmed. The writer of that story and the local editor got it right, referring to the North Carolina filming location as Lake Lure. Maybe The N&O Arts&Living editor needs to do double time by editing front page articles. If you come across mistakes in The News & Observer, let me know. Be sure to include dates and pages and the mistake. By the way, mistakes of opinion do not count.

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