Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The art of headlines

I'm always intrigued by the way headlines juxtapose with their stories in the tabloid press. I understand that headlines are supposed to be attention-grabbing, but when they misrepresent the story it makes reading the comparatively lacklustre material within a bit of a let-down. For example, when you look at the sports pages and you see that someone has 'blasted' someone or is in a 'fury', and then when you read the story they're just making fairly mundane comments expressing minor amounts of disappointment, because they've all been media-trained within an inch of their lives to spout tedious platitudes. See today's Telegraph for Shay Given blasts Fifa over decision to seed World Cup play-offs, where the blast in question is less like a giant star exploding and more like someone trying to discreetly let out a fart in an overrunning meeting. Or the other day in the Mail when Frank Lampard blasted former chief Adam Crozier for 'golden generation' tag, wherein Lampard tapped into unexpected levels of molten rage to furiously spit that it was "quite frustrating". It's not known yet if Crozier needed to be taken to hospital after being caught in the epicentre of that terrifying blast.

That sort of thing is easy enough to let slide, I guess; the sports pages unfortunately don't go away when it's a barren international week, and it's hard enough to make footballers' comments sound interesting at the best of times. In the realm of Proper News though, those kind of exaggerated headlines feel a bit more dangerous. The Mail has a few examples today, the most irresponsible of which is Normal flu jabs 'double the risk of catching swine bug'. The worst thing about this is that you can tell that the writer is fully aware that it's a non-story; much of the actual piece is given over to sheepishly admitting that this is a single study which hasn't even been published in a medical journal, and as such hardly overturns the huge amounts of properly peer-reviewed research that backs the safety of the vaccine. Dutifully, the reporter gets appropriate quotes from the JCVI, the WHO, Sir Liam Donaldson, and the Department Of Health telling them not to be fucking idiots about the whole thing. My favourite bit of the article though is this line:
Health chiefs are concerned that conflicting evidence about protection offered by flu jabs could deter those at risk of serious illness or dying from getting vaccinated.
Which might as well have read "Health chiefs are concerned about tabloid reporters writing articles with scaremongering headlines like this one".

Over in the science section, we get Whatever happened to global warming? How freezing temperatures are starting to shatter climate change theory, its headline eerily similar to a recent BBC effort which made global warming 'sceptics' and their nutjob ringleaders shit their pants with glee last week. The headline suggests the article is about to finally explode the idea of climate change, but the article itself is a bit of a damp squib; some cherry-picked tales about how it's really quite nippy in the not-normally-tropical state of Montana, a repeat of the incredible stat that the earth isn't quite as warm now as it was in the hottest year in recorded history, and then a fair bit of backtracking in the middle where they say the evidence is 'inconclusive', before topping it off with some quotes from some scientists who tell them their headline is pretty much bollocks. Many of the commenters didn't seem to get that far, of course, with Vanessa in London dribbling:
At last an article with the truth. I am sick and tired of reading about this idiotic dream of 'global warming' or climate change...
...suggesting this is the first time she has seen the Mail. Pete in Essex knows where to go to dig for the REAL scientific evidence:
Read the book State of Fear by Michael Crichton. Blows the whole climate change scare stories out of the water.
Indeed. And why be worrying about climate change anyway, when we've got these fucking big-ass cloned dinosaurs on the rampage?

Moving on, we come to Boy, 6, faces 45 days in reform centre for bringing own cutlery to school, wherein 'cutlery' is apparently a quaint euphemism for a Swiss Army knife. This story is from the US and concerns a kid who took a camping knife to school, apparently to eat his lunch. The school had adopted one of those crazy 'don't bring knives to school' policies, and got suspended pending a decision. Thus we get to witness the slightly disorientating sight of seeing the Mail, once so outraged about knife crime, apparently demanding that a child not be punished for taking a knife to school. To be clear, it does sound like the school may have been a bit inflexible with their zero tolerance policy (although that is kind of the point of zero tolerance policies), but I'm kind of baffled that this became news over here, especially with a needlessly misleading headline.

Still, I suppose the alternative to misleading headlines for a paper like the Mail would be ridiculously straightforward headlines that lay bare the crashing tedium within. Headlines like Curvy Danielle Lloyd gets back into bikini for romantic Dubai holiday with Jamie O'Hara, in which curvy Danielle Lloyd gets back into a bikini for a romantic Dubai holiday with Jamie O'Hara. Or Rebecca Loos is back in a bikini eight weeks after giving birth having lost her baby weight AND an extra 5lb, in which, over several gripping paragraphs, we learn the incredible truth about how Rebecca Loos is back in a bikini eight weeks after giving birth, having lost her baby weight AND an extra 5lb. Or Naomi Campbell shows off her timeless figure in an orange bikini as she reunites with Russian lover in Miami, which takes the reader on an extraordinary roller-coaster ride of emotion as, through an intense mesh of florid prose and startling illustration, we gradually build up a picture of what it might be like to look at Naomi Campbell showing off her timeless figure in an orange bikini as she reunites with her Russian lover in Miami. Still, I guess these particular stories are aimed at people who don't necessarily have time to decode more nuanced headlines in the five minutes before their wife gets out of the shower.

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