Monday, November 17, 2014

An Incorrect Head Count

Allow me to briefly set the scene. It’s a Sunday. We’re in a busy newspaper office, less than 30 minutes before the paper goes to press. A couple of writers are at a small, cluttered desk. One is seated; the other is standing. And … go!

AP reporter: Hey, man, I finished my article on the Pats-Falcons game. The key elements to consider when you write the headline are New England’s victory and Brady’s two scores.

Headline writer: Patriots won the game, and Brady threw two touchdowns. Got it.

APR: Do you? I don’t mean to be a jerk, but you have written some head-scratching headlines in the past. The ones that stand out are

One-arm man applauds the kindness of strangers
Tight end returns after colon surgery
Republicans turned off by size of Obama’s package
Lady Jacks off to hot start in conference
A-Rod goes deep, Wang hurt
Puerto Rican teen named mistress of the universe
Bush asks nation for patients
Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement
Astronaut Neil Young, first man to walk on moon, dies at age 82
Homicide victims rarely talk to police*

I hate to bring those up, but I’m a stickler for accuracy, and I’d prefer to avoid any unintentional humor.

HW: Wow! Way to dredge up the past, man. Stop worrying. I’ll write a headline that makes it clear New England won the game and Brady was the catalyst, with his two TDs.

APR: Great. Thanks. If you come up with something compelling, it’ll draw more readers. Try using the active voice. Strong verbs are a must.

HW: Hey, give me some credit. I know how to write a headline. It’s a skill, and I possess that skill. I am an ar-teest.

APR: Sorry, didn’t mean to insinuate otherwise. I’m sure you’ll come up with something catchy. Speaking of catches, two New England receivers caught passes in the end zone from Brady. How ‘bout “Brady throws 2 TDs in Patriots’ victory over Falcons”? That’d be a pretty good headline.

HW: Not bad. I’ll consider it. I do like how it includes the vital information.

APR: Yeah. All headlines should grab readers’ attention. They should be simple, direct and, most important, accurate.

HW: So true. We’d look really silly, for example, if we spelled Brady’s name incorrectly or stated that Atlanta won or mistakenly credited Brady with an extra TD.

APR: Tell me about it. That’s not a concern for us though. The first two sentences of my article clearly present the correct spelling of Brady, the winner of the game and Brady’s total touchdowns. Let that be your guide.

HW: Yep, no worries. We’ve got this.

APR: We do. You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and you really should try to work in Brady’s TD total. He is the headliner, after all. As you know, he threw two. If you think you might forget, I have an easy way to remember. Pretend you’re a football team down eight in the final minute and you’ve just scored a touchdown. What do you do? You go for 2.

HW: Thanks for the suggestion. I won’t need any sort of mnemonic device though. I know he scored three TDs.

APR: No. He scored two, not three.

HW: Yeah, right, right. I meant two. Just misspoke.

APR: OK. Well, I have to run. I’ll see you tomorrow.

HW: See ya.

Allow me to briefly set the scene. We’re in the same newspaper office, early the following day. The same two writers are stationed around the same small desk. And … go!

HW: Our paper made the headlines last night.

APR: Yeah, Owen told me. Give Brady one extra touchdown pass and the world wants to pass judgment.

HW: Well, our paper does strive for accuracy. We blew it. Have to move on. So, what do you think of this headline for tomorrow’s paper: “Writer tosses accuracy aside, headline uses ‘3’”?

APR: Not bad. Could go in that direction, or we could use “Brady credited with extra TD, writer embarrassed.”

HW: Appropriate. I am embarrassed by yesterday’s headline.

APR: That makes three of us.

HW: Don’t you mean “two”?

APR: Ah, whatever!

* Editors note: All 10 headlines listed are authentic. Go ahead, Google em!

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