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Good Morning Nanty Glo!
Happy Independence Day!               Thursday, July 4 2002 

What's in a headline?

Shakespeare's "what's in a name?" (as immortalized in Juliet's famous speech) can be applied to headlines, too. What's in a headline or article title often reveals the whole philosophy or worldview of the publication, or at least of the headline writer. Headline writing is one of the most prized arts of the journalist's trade. I learned it at the elbow of Nanty Glo Journal editor Andy Rogalski in 1962. Most journalism students probably learn it while working on the school or departmental newspaper, but not all who go through the j-schools get to work on those papers (I wrote for the Pitt Panther at JCP but was never in on the production side of the paper, even though I've been in publications production for the rest of my adult life). Those who don't get to work on production for such papers or lack an Andy Rogalski to guide them may never learn the art.

The art is in:
1. filling the space allotted for the headline (being neither too long nor too short)
2. distilling the gist of the article in the words that fit
3. capturing the kernel of the story rather than just what may appear in the first sentence or paragraph
4. being allusive or enticing (suggesting more than the bare bones)
5. being cute or humorous when appropriate, without being "precious."

For some years I subscribed to both San Francisco and San Jose daily newspapers. Both usually covered for the most part the same news. But I read far more articles in the San Francisco Chronicle than the San Jose daily because the Chronicle had far more enticing headlines. Most of the articles about national and world news in our daily newspapers come from the Associated Press, which most daily newspapers belong to and use. The editors of the papers are free to edit whatever comes over the "wire," but for the most part only the headlines consistently get the personal touch, and that's probably not by the same person who edits the city and metro news but by a specialized headline editor or layout editor or, more commonly, a combination of the two roles. Writing the headlines is the main way newspapers influence the world and national news or, more accurately, the way it's received by readers.

I was inspired to take up this topic by two headlines touting the same story in Wednesday's online news portals. These strongly suggest the politics of the respective publications: "Bush: Let religious groups get U.S. funds" one paper declares, which seems like an anti-administration way of presenting the story. "President encourages religion-based program, welfare overhaul," from another medium, much more closely approximates what the Bush team want to project. The first suggests government support for churches, which most people are at least leery about. The second suggests that by helping religious people involved in charitable works reach more people with more help, we can stretch the effective tax dollars available for social programs. In other words, this is asking the "church" to help the government provide for social welfare, which it already does. Most of us probably think that religious people involved in such projects are more dedicated and give value added to the task, compared with professional welfare workers.

Can headlines on such stories be fair and unbiased? Ah, there's the rub. Because of their brevity, headlines are hard pressed to tell one side of a story, much less both. But their writers can work for balance, something none of the big media I surveyed on the recent school voucher decision from the Supreme Court even attempted. Even the stories, which have no size constraints, were totally one-sided on that issue. But that's getting into a new topic.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Dumb crooks

A 33-year-old man was arrested recently in Providence,
R.I., after allegedly knocking out an armored car driver
and stealing the closest four bags of money. It turned
out they contained $800 in pennies, weighed 30 pounds each, and slowed him to a stagger during his getaway so that police officers easily jumped him from behind..

— Sent by Mike Harrison

Thought for today

I N S T R U C T I O N S  F O R  L I F E . . .
(last in series)

16. Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon .

Sent by Mary Ann Losiewcz

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