Saturday, March 6, 2010

Go Read Something Else (Wait! I don't Mean That)

A headline is supposed to entice a reader to delve into a story, ideally to capture the essence of that story in a few words. A caption is supposed to supplement a story; combined with a picture it offers, in new media lingo, a supplementary entry point into the story. A caption also is supposed to avoid stating the obvious. If the photo shows a man drinking a glass of water, for instance, the copy editor would not write "Man drinks glass of water," but rather something informative like "Unaware that New Jersey's drinking water contains particulates of thousands of antibiotics and prescription drugs that have been flushed down the toilet, man tempts fate with glass of water." I'm kidding, sort of. But I would need several hands and a couple of extra feet to count on my fingers and toes the number of memos I've seen sent to the copy desk reminding editors not to state the obvious in captions.

So imagine when a headline states the obvious. I passed one of those honor boxes with a stack of Bergen Records in it today and the headline marching across the front page read: "Anger at Fare Hikes." Hel-lo. The story could have been thirty column inches, forty column inches, sixty column inches with a fancy graphic, how many ways can you say commuters who ride NJ Transit trains and buses -- the likely fare increases of 30 percent led the paper and was all over the radio the day before -- don't want to see their fares go up. Of course they're angry.

Personally, I'd have fired not the schmo who wrote the headline but the slot person who pushed the typeset button who should know better. Unless, of course, the headline was dictated by the managing editor or editor, both of whom a former colleague likes to refer to as dysfunctional. It's one thing for morale to be so low, as the rumor mill has it to be at the Record, that copy editors don't give a s--t what they write and slot people don't give a damn what they typeset, but it's another thing to not take the least bit of pride in your work.

Any of a dozen heads would at least have given a reader cause to glance at the first paragraph, or to consider plunking 50 cents (or is it more now?) into the vending machine: "Commuters up in arms," "Riders blast NJ Transit." As Warner Wolf would say, "Come onnn!"