Headlines that suck: Post-ACES edition

No, I was not at the American Copy Editors Society event in Philadelphia this past week and weekend. But given the occasion, I thought we should take a look at headlines that were surely the responsibility of their lesser colleagues — if a copy editor touched these masterpieces at all.

This edition features some headlines that are more bothersome than evil (but not the first headline); they suffer perhaps more from not having an editor’s eye than from a bad editor. That doesn’t make it better, and it’s but one problem ACES can hopefully confront.

  • USC board could lose lone black (Augusta Chronicle version of AP story, April 14, 2010)
    Absolutely astonishing. I think we all know what’s wrong with this. And there are just so many easy fixes. Here’s just one, albeit with a missing comma. 

  • Man jumps off I-94 overpass near Michigan City (WSBT-TV, South Bend, Ind., April 7, 2010)
    He must have died, right? Well … maybe. He probably wasn’t doing it as a stunt or as part of an athletic activity, right? Well … maybe. Turns out he merely injured his ankles and legs. I wouldn’t say somebody jumping off of an overpass isn’t news, but outcome is important. The story errs further by not telling us how high up this overpass was. The only silver lining? The man said he was trying to kill himself; the headline made no hay with that.
  • Saginaw cheerleaders disciplined, urine in sodas ( AP via Houston Chronicle, April 8, 2010)
    You may have heard of a story of cheerleaders spiking teammates’ sodas. Well, this headline sort of says that happened, but it suffers from poor punctuation and syntax. What does the sentence mean grammatically? Well, it could be cheerleaders disciplined, and separately, all the sodas there have urine in them. In the worst-case scenario, it could be read as the cheerleaders receiving discipline in the form of urine in sodas. Now, that may create a whole new type of Web visitor to the Chronicle website, but I don’t know it’s an audience the paper’s seeking.
  • Child reported missing in stolen car found (Cincinnati Enquirer, April 6, 2010)The word “is” is a magical word, but it is apparently mysterious to headline writers. Unlike former President Clinton, they would rather omit “is” than think about it. Here, a simple fix is “is found.” The word order could be improved, but the connections are there — there was a child who was reported missing after a car was stolen, but the child has been found.
    Will most people be confused here? Maybe not, you’d say. But there are multiple avenues to confusion. One is the beginning: “Child reported missing” will get readers thinking this is a new case. Of course, it’s not. The rest of the headline, if read literally and/or without full attention, reads much like a stolen car was found, and the child that was expected there was missing. Regardless, a terrible gateway into a fascinating (and creepy) story.
  • Utah students connect with Anne Frank (Salt Lake Tribune, April 14, 2010)Apparently, there was a seance, or she re-enacted Jesus appearing to the disciples after his death. The worst headline ever? No. But it’s still lacking.
  • Bourne again: Man accused of threatening tax commission (Salt Lake Tribune, April 13, 2010)Ah, Salt Lake is on a roll. The “Bourne” connection is somewhat substantiated way down in the story, where the threat-maker alluded to events from one of the trilogy’s films. The headline still needed, at the least, “Bourne” in quotes to make that connection clear. But “Bourne again”? It’s not a religious-based threat, there’s no mention of religion or of born-again Christianity, and Jason Bourne the character certainly was not one. The threat-maker is also not named “Bourne,” in case you wondered. Just on stereotypes alone, I’m all surprised Salt Lake’s paper would make this sort of headline blunder.
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