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Headlines and deadlines

Updated on June 20, 2012
More unbelievable copy for the credulous masses.
More unbelievable copy for the credulous masses. | Source

The newspapers are full of them and they all have to make them – (headlines and deadlines that is). But what has one to do with the other and what does it all mean?

I intend to try and explain the first of these great conundrums of the century, but apart from making a couple of wild speculations will not attempt to reach a definitive conclusion on the second.

My take on the connection between headlines and deadlines is that headlines are what enable newspapers to get a story out quickly with very little depth being added to it. Many of those paper things parading as newspapers are filled with stories that are no more than extended headlines.

A recent example from a local online outlet that shall remain nameless, but let’s call them MoonDead, took this emerging genre to a whole new level. In a story with the catchy title Car hits post, crashes into tree we learned in the opening par that “.....a car hit a lamp post(sic) before crashing into a tree....” which the more alert readers will have realised we already learned in the headline. But just in case we missed that, we learn again in par two with a little more info (driven by an elderly man down Ohauiti Road at 11:40am) that the car “...hit a lamp post (even sic-er)before colliding with a tree..” The helpful caption under the story said (you almost guessed it) “The car took out a Poike Road” Apparently it had moved since we began this sorry saga.

However our tale continued with the next par which reminded us “The car then collided with a tree about 11:40am” (Just in case you had forgotten since reading the previous line). The next par introduced a police spokesman to the fray and he told us the man was “...coming down Poike Road when he lost control on a bend and hit a lamp post” (are you sic of this yet?). Well the reporter certainly wasn’t because they added a valuable quote from the copper. See if you can guess what bit was before I tell you – oh alright then, I know it must be a hard thing to speculate on – “He has taken out the lamp post (now they’ve got him doing it, too) and hit a tree.”

The above is an example of how more is quite often a lot less. Here we got 132 words to explain no more than what had already been said in the six word headline apart from the time and the gender and general age-group of the driver. We can’t even be sure where it happened exactly as there is a contradiction in the text about that.

The headline is the shortcut to the story and it is supposedly meant to be the lure that draws you in to read the story. Ideally therefore a story should be lurking behind the headline and not simply an exercise in how many different ways one can say the same thing.

However to be fair; this particular example is not one of the worst examples of a redundant headline because it is true to itself. What you see in the headline is exactly what you get in the (I hesitate to use the word) story. What are more annoying are the headlines that mean the exact opposite of the story or give it a misleading slant.

These are usually the press releases that lazy newsrooms simply put out with almost no changes to them.

A good example of this was one recently that proclaimed “Western Bay among top PHOs”. Had anyone in that particular newsroom read this press release properly before reprinting it with one additional ‘localising’ par and six word changes they might have realised it was nothing of the sort. It was about a league table released by the (Ill) Health Minister that ranked the PHOs on just three matters; targets for immunisation of the under twos (at which they certainly weren’t one of the top performers), offering support for smokers to quit and achieving more heart checks which was the one they actually came out on top in.

While it sounds good that Western Bay of Plenty PHO did quite well at one thing it is hardly enough evidence they are leading the way in health outcomes. This is the same area where the Tauranga Hospital is currently sending people 100kms away to Whakatane Hospital for outpatient procedures they have the equipment and expertise for right here.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I wonder if this breathless story about how well the Western BOP PHO is doing got reprinted because it came from the office of the Minister of (Ill) Health who just happens to be the member for Bay of Plenty. Nah, surely not – the press are even-handed with their treatment of political.... (Sorry I just can’t stop laughing) stories.

So for the press the link between headlines and deadlines is that a headline with as much supporting text as the example I began this with allows them to meet deadlines without putting out a publication with big gaps in it due to a lack of any worthwhile stories. That is a stupid thing to do in a printed paper but it is even more stupid online where it would seem the need to be first beats the need to be accurate hands down.

Of course there are some players who resist (for the most part) the temptation to write headline horrors to fill their publications and they are the mostly rurally located ones who use huge full page pictures to pad out the space.

For the politicians, headlines are the opportunity to cram all the good points of a new move into one crisp headline without the need to elaborate with the finer details. That way an unpalatable measure can be introduced under the disguise of a happy shiny headline that picks out the two vaguely okay things from a pile of disasters, which hopefully nobody will notice until it’s too late.

But what does it all mean? I think it means we have become a society obsessed with everything being fast and instant, very often at the price of any sort of quality.

The headlines are just another example of how we think more is always better and the deadlines are just that; dead lines. To the best of my knowledge none of us get to live this life over again which means every moment is unique.

We need to slow down and enjoy these moments not race through them to get to....where exactly?

People eat fast food because they can’t wait the few minutes it takes to cook a proper meal and then they wonder why they get sick. People have bought this bullshit to the extent they think they are so busy they have no time. Some dimwits even see it as a badge of honour to be ‘too busy’ to take a lunch break or so busy they have to buy a cup of coffee to drink on the run.

We weren’t ever meant to eat and drink on the run which is why so many people in this country have gut problems. Neither were we meant to eat pesticides or hormones, but greedy growers who want to produce more, quicker and larger but not necessarily any better can’t wait for things to grow naturally; thus these delights are added to your diet.

So now you know why bad headlines can be just as bad for your health as tight deadlines.

Take some time out my friends and make yourself a good meal tonight, forget the overtime, sit back and enjoy this (still mostly) beautiful country of ours and don’t believe every headline you read.


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