Before you read the story and follow it through the newspaper, there is the headline. It’s those words which are meant to punch the reader in the face and say, “Read this.” It’s a small space from which to describe what a 300 or 3,000-word story speaks about and the description must be quick and clever, but not too cute.
It is the reason I have 30 ways of saying a team lost or won (beat, defeat, fell to, dropped, throttle, edge, cruised by…etc). It’s really sad how excited I get when I think of a different way to say a team won or lost.
It’s one of the most irritating jobs of an editor, but also one of the most important. It is one thing (there are plenty) you can count on having a call, a copy of the newspaper with a giant red mark and a few e-mails the next day waiting for you if there is a mistake, considering the mistake could change history (see the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline that was in the Nov. 3, 1948, issue of the Chicago Tribune).
Aside from our ability to devilishly dance with words, journalists are human. We eat, drink and sometimes we even sleep. When you’re looking at thousands of words a day, some just escape you; even the big ones.
I’ve woken up in the middle of the night thanks to nightmares of incorrect headlines, as if I were having war flashbacks. Sometimes the nightmares come true (I wholeheartedly apologize for putting JCC’s Whitney Burmeister on Windom’s basketball team in a headline).
All you can do is say, “I knew that didn’t look right,” and proceed to yell, throw and/or punch something to relieve the anger and never forget it.
It’s usually impossible to forget if you have loyal friends in the newsroom to consistently remind you of and belittle you for your mistakes. We’ll call mine A. Hagen and J. Froemming. That’s too obvious. Let’s call them Aaron H. and Joe F.
ESPN recently wrote a headline involving a phrase used to describe when a fault is found in someone, but also includes a word often used as racial slur for Asian people in regards to a story about New York Knicks’ guard Jeremy Lin, who is of Chinese and Taiwanese decent.
It was taken down 35 minutes after being posted, editor Anthony Federico was fired and anchor Max Bretos was suspended 30 days for saying it on air, even though his wife is Asian.
It was Federico’s last headline of the night, posted at 2:30 a.m. I’m sure he didn’t get much sleep that night.
It was an inexcusable mistake which will ironically point the spotlight on those of whom are normally directing it.
It’s a mistake and we should assume it was only that. Making a racial remark is probably not worth being fired from the center stage of sports journalism.
Always remember, people, to re-read everything. And, after that, re-read it again.
There are things the all-powerful spellcheck simply can’t see.
As we speak, I just realized I had Murray County Central as the Huskies in my headline rather than the Rebels.
I can sleep knowing I changed it before deadline, but I’ll certainly be waking up in the middle of the night thinking I didn’t.