Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Event occurs unexpectedly

     BOULDER, Colo—Journalists have a hand in defining what a story is, or did, occasionally leading to a phenomenon I call the "Near Collision." Two jets will either collide on an airport runway or nearly do so, and then the media will start paying attention to runway mishaps and reporting when airliners come close to hitting each other at airports, until they realize that it happens frequently and then stop.
     The underlying phenomenon is reporters being sensitized to situations so they start treating the commonplace as extraordinary.
     For instance, Monday I noticed the Denver Post ran the staggeringly mundane headline "Area is at heart of debate over growth." I tweeted it with the snarky note, "And the Denver Post snags the Generic Headline of the Week Award."  
     After plowing through the article, or trying to, I'd have gone with the equally-long,
"Is Governors' Park filled to the brim?"
     Then Tuesday, having coffee, I noticed another anodyne headline, "Cases per capita 2nd in U.S." Just as bad? Or does it seem worse arriving in the after-echo of the first, like two planes slipping past each other the day after a collision? I began to play a game I think of as, Write the Better Headline. The deficient headline takes 28 spaces (ignoring that a small "i" actually requires less room than a capital "C," and so on). We could substitute the far more urgent, "COVID surges in Colorado" in 24 spaces, tossing in a few spaces for the extra caps.
     I thought of making this a running game, "Beat the Denver Post Copyeditors." Until it struck me that the Denver Post is one of the newspapers gutted by Alden Global Capital. The professionals who know how to write a newspaper headline were probably let go long ago, and to make light of those left behind to flail and founder is like ridiculing a family living under a tarp after a tornado leveled their home. So apologies to those stout souls who remain lashed to their oars at the Post. I only share their embarrassment now as a cautionary tale to my friends at the Trib. Keep pushing to find that benevolent billionaire to sweep in, or someday, after a future Chicago police shooting, the Tribune will be running headlines screaming, "Mayor speaks about situation."


  1. Thanks for feeding us during your Colorado trip (Hopefully a little vacation). Do headlines matter? I still remember one of my favorites from the Sun-Times early 1990's during the Persian Gulf War: "Air Head Fired". Unforgettable.

  2. And one from the 70s, when the air conditioning failed on a cargo plane:

    When Jerry Garcia died: DEAD HEADS MOURN HEAD DEAD.

    I am cleaning house and have been throwing out some old newspapers I saved from two and three decades ago. I look at the headlines, the layouts, the pix, the writing, the editing, and I want to cry. So much is changed, so much is gone, so much is never coming back.


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