Case Study 5

22 Feb

They Know, They Know, They Know … Or Do They?

(Or, if we don’t want to make a Drake joke…)

Keeping Headlines Relevant

The issue of how to write appropriate headlines is extremely relevant this week because to the Jeremy Lin controversy focused around ESPN, which has had to tiptoe around the phrase “chink in the armor” because it could be taken racially when relating to Lin. One man has lost his job at the company’s website after six years of work, and another has been suspended for a month despite having no history of touching on sensitive topics.

Blogging as I do about HBO’s “Eastbound and Down,” I’m reminded of a scene near the end of season 1 in which the main character is leaving the school where he’s been teaching. His rambling speech includes the following:

I was your knight in shining armor! And each of you were the chinks upon my armor! … You were all the chinks! Remember me, my chinks.

The scene in question is intended to be funny; the show’s a satire, the character’s been established as racially insensitive, and none of the people he’s talking to are Asian. I have to wonder if the editor who posted the headline was thinking of this, if he thought about it at all.

This represents a bigger problem for editors: When will headlines be taken out of context? The answer for any good editor should be to assume the answer to that is “whenever possible”. Sometimes the headline is shoddily inferred from evidence like “Falcons ‘won’t forget’ Brees airing it out late to break record.” Only one anonymous source on the Falcons had that opinion, so the article kind of makes something out of nothing.

In a similar vein, the “Obama has a big problem with white women” headline should’ve been rewritten as “white women have a big problem with Obama.” While this still only reflects one claim made in the article’s source survey, it at least might’ve made the editor see how ridiculous it looked.

In a perfect world, every editor would be able to show his or her headlines to a third party for out-of-context analysis before every story was published. But the fact is that we as journalists don’t have that kind 0f time to be going back and forth, which is why it’s more imperative for editors to have solid judgement.

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