Sunday, May 25, 2008

The latest on the Charles Grant...Oh shit, look at that headline!

I found this on NOLA.com (also linked on The Big Lead) and stumbled upon the following headline:

"Charles Grant says the truth will come out concerning his charge of involuantary manslaughter, but the case could threaten his freedom, career and reputation"

Jesus tap-dancing Christ, does ANYBODY teach people how to write a headline these days? (Never mind the fact that they misspelled "involuntary.") Look, I don't claim to be the lord and chancellor of headline writing, but since I work in the media and either write headlines or cut and paste several for AP stories, I can say I know when I see a good headline...and a bad one, as well. I know a good or bad headline when I see it. Like pornographic materials.

Moving along then...

When I began writing for my collegiate newspaper, various editors-in-chief told me that the headline should grab a reader's attention and make him or her want to READ the story.

In my first real, adult-type job at a television station (working on the station's website), my boss told me, "Don't write headlines that are four lines long. Don't give away too much information. Keep it short and to the point. Only be longwinded if it's absolutely necessary."

Rules of headline writing can even be found on that series of tubes known as the Internet, more specifically, right here.

I used to write headlines that were brutally long. Maybe not as long as the Charles Grant debacle up top, but I can say I know a bad headline when I see one because I HAVE WRITTEN BAD HEADLINES before. On occasion, I still do. Of course, now I recognize places where I can trim a word or change things around after the fact and eventually make corrections.

Let's tackle the headline in question as my primary example:

Charles Grant says the truth will come out concerning his charge of involuntary manslaughter, but the case could threaten his freedom, career and reputation (24 words)

I came up with three substitute headlines:

1. Grant: Charges could threaten freedom, career and reputation (8 words)
(Side Note: If you're from New Orleans or the surrounding area, you likely KNOW who 'Grant' is in this case. You could maybe put 'Charles Grant' or 'football player' in there for more national copy. Hell, you could add 'Involuntary manslaughter' in front of the word 'charges' and it would still be a smaller headline than the original one.)

2. Police report says witness identified Grant as gunman in Georgia nightclub shooting (12 words)
(Side Note: Again, you could change 'Grant' to 'Charles Grant' or 'football player' and it would still be shorter)

3. Grant says name, money might have made him a target in nightclub altercation (13 words)

And so on...I'll probably be thinking of seven or eight other possible headlines tonight when I'm out at the bar watching Lakers v. Spurs. That's how my mind works. I'm lame like that.

Look, I'm not here to necessarily blast the writer or whoever came up with that headline, but the fact remains there are far too many people who simply glance at headlines and bullet points to get their news, and maybe large headlines like this are part of the problem.

The public at large should certainly be held accountable. The printed word is not as well respected as it once was. No, I'm not here to foist the problems of newspapers' receding business on long headlines, but it's just one of those rules of good journalism that I'm always a stickler for. Maybe I shouldn't be this surly about it, but I know if I don't like something, I'm apt not to read or buy it. And isn't that what this business ultimately boils down to? Selling?

And for the record, my headline for this blog entry is 12 words. If you want to add the ellipses, it's still far shorter than the problematic headline.

1 comment:

GW said...

Surly is good. Don't drop the surly.