Headline writers: Please be more careful

December 30, 2009

Here’s a follow-up to my blog from yesterday.    Two stories seen on Yahoo! News show what I’m talking about.  I include below the headlines from those stories and their links.

First, I’m gratified to see headline number one.  It reflects the true nature of this story — that the suspect boarded the plane in Amsterdam.

Unfortunately, there’s also headline number two, listed as a related story.  The words of that headline make it sound  as if the explosive was created in Detroit!   Granted, Detroit has its troubles, but please, headline writers:   Don’t don’t use the constraints of headline writing in order to slam Detroit.

It’s like the late-night comics who just mention one word or phrase, like “Monica Lewinsky,” and suddenly everyone knows where the joke is going.    Enough of stand-in words that give the wrong story.

Headline writers:   Please write more accurate headlines!



  1. It is unfortunate that some of the news outlets didn’t phrase their reports differently because first impressions do tend to stick. I watched a full report that was well done, complete with a map of the guy’s travel pattern, online on “The Rachel Maddow” show. You in Michigan have the added problem that some of your politicians, like the congressman running for governor, are making fundraising appeals based on the incident, like somehow U.S. security isn’t tight enough and that’s why this happened. That’s a double whammy that makes it hard for people to decipher exactly where the problem is.

  2. Spot on, Cindy. Even in less important cases, headline writing can screw up the tone/content of a column or story. It’s happened to several of my own pieces in the past, and it’s embarrassing. In this case, in this story, it’s deadly.

  3. Sharon, I find that the Rachel Maddow show is pretty accurate in its reporting, even though I know she’s working from a point of view.

    Cindy, I’ve had headlines that changed the meaning of my stories, too. I really admire the headline writers who can summarize a story accurately and with the correct tone and info. It’s often quite a challenge. When I worked for a small daily and we reporters took turns editing, I’d go downstairs to the paste-up board and learned quite a few good headline tricks from the paste-up artist. She could have been a reporter herself!

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