Thursday, August 21, 2014

Journalism 101: How Dumb are NY Times Headline Writers?

The NY Times headlined a report on Gaza rockets being fired at Israel, breaking the latest cease-fire, this way: Rockets From Gaza and Israeli Response Break Cease-Fire. So if only Israel hadn't responded, the cease-fire would still be alive? Really NY Times?

Alex Safian, PhD..
CAMERA Media Analyses..
19 August '14..

There is an art to writing a good headline. Too long and it won't fit, too short and it won't really describe the story. It requires a concerted effort to find just the right pithy and evocative words that still accurately describe the story's content.

Because it's an art, there is a lore that's developed. Perhaps the greatest headline, certainly in tabloid history, was on the front page of the New York Post on April 15, 1983: Headless Body In Topless Bar, hitting all the themes that tabloid writers and tabloid readers cherish.

Apparently the august New York Times just can't afford that class of headline writer.

Case in point comes with this morning's news that rockets from Gaza have once again been fired into Israel, violating the latest cease-fire.

At first, believe it or not, the Times headlined the story by questioning whether the rockets that landed in Israel really came from Gaza: "Rockets Said to Be Fired from Gaza Strip Puncture Latest Cease-Fire" (the site keeps track of headline changes).

So, the headline writer seemed to be saying, the Israelis said the rockets were fired from Gaza, but who knows, maybe they were lying.

Perhaps recognizing how silly their headline was, the Times then updated it. But not to "Gaza Rockets Break Cease-fire" or something similarly accurate and descriptive. No, the intrepid but not that clever folks at the Times changed the headline to: "Rockets From Gaza and Israeli Response Break Cease-Fire." (this is still the headline as of 1:38 PM New York time)

Got that? Israel responding to rockets from Gaza is just as much a violation of the cease-fire as terrorists firing the rockets in the first place. If only Israel had not responded to the rockets, the Times seems to be saying, the cease-fire would still be in place.

It's worth asking again, why does the Times find this so difficult?


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