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Archive for the ‘headlines’ Category

Bailout to the rescue

Posted by Noel Sanchez on October 14, 2008

Are copy editors to blame for the public’s perception of the $700 billion financial rescue plan?

The plan has been called a bailout for weeks, and more recently it’s been referred to as a rescue. Has the change in semantics affected public opinion?

Kathy Schenck points out that “bailout” carries some negative connotations, while “rescue” sounds much nobler. I have to agree with her; even the first time I heard the bill referred to as a “bailout,” I thought it sounded a little opinion-tinged. But, to be safe, I checked out what the the ultimate objective authority, the dictionary, had to say.

From Merriam-Webster:

Bail out- v. to rescue from financial distress

Rescue- v. to free from confinement, danger, or evil

“Bailout” certainly seems like the appropriate word, but I still think that it carries a negative connotation. To me, when you bail someone out, you’re giving them a handout. You’re helping them out  when they’ve gotten themselves in deep trouble, and they probably don’t even deserve your help. As in, “I’ll bail you out this one time, but you owe me big. Don’t expect me to help you out like this again.”

Maybe that’s just me, but this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel talks about how the b-word might have influenced people’s perceptions, and consequently, the House’s initial rejection of the bill.

A rescue, on the other hand, is the ultimate form of selflessness and nobleness. Helpless animals and children need rescuing; drunk friends across town with no cash and no way of getting home need bailing out. Heroes rescue; annoyed roommates bail out.

I’d like to think of the Wall Street bigwigs as somewhere between helpless critters and inebriated college students.

Headline writers weren’t wrong in using the word “bailout.” It is, afterall, probably more accurate than “rescue” because its meaning deals specifically with finance. But writers should never underestimate how a simple word can shape a person’s perception.


Posted in headlines, in the news, real-life dilemmas | 1 Comment »

Cliches can muck up your pristine headlines

Posted by Noel Sanchez on October 3, 2008

Cliches are probably enemy No. 1 when it comes to editing copy. But they’re especially heinous in headlines. I’ll admit that writing headlines is probably the copy-editing task I struggle most with, and when that cliched phrase pops into mind, it just seems like such an easy way out.

Next time you’re worried that you’re about to fall into the cliche trap, reading this post from Headsup might remind you how ridiculous they can look.

Just how many people can come up with the exact same headline about the Wall Street bailout? Well, quite a few if they’re all relying on a pop culture reference and a question headline.

So at the Alligator, we have a list of blacklisted words that everyone agrees should not pop up in our stories unless in a direct quote or in some other unavoidable circumstance. Among those words are “sustainable,” “green” and “community.” (Bonus factor: It is very likely for all three of these words to potentially show up in the same story.) These tired old words sound nice but have little real meaning or weight. They’re banned from news copy (we let columns and features slide), and of course, banned from headlines.

I’ve found the list pretty useful and have noticed that everyone tries to abide by it for the most part, which isn’t easy considering how difficult it is to pick up on cliches in your own copy. A phrase never seems cliche when you use it. To solve that problem, I suggest writing down your own list of blacklisted headlines. Scribble down any cliche when you see it. When it’s time to write your headline, that list of unusable phrases is a visible reminder that you’re not as clever as you thought.

Posted in editing yourself, headlines | Leave a Comment »