Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Star's Creative Headline Writing Team Was Hard At Work In Tuesday's Print Edition

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 2:07 PM

click to enlarge The Star's Creative Headline Writing Team Was Hard At Work In Tuesday's Print Edition
Courtesy of BigStock

A headline sitting atop an op-ed in the Star's Tuesday print edition jumped out at me this morning.
What's worse? Schiff's parody or GOP's fantasies?
Did the column's author really find Schiff's parody of Trump's call with Ukraine's President Zelensky bad, then try to figure out whether or not it was worse than the GOP's fantasies?

Absolutely not. The author praises Schiff's use of parody and calls the Republican outrage   "overwrought," "disingenuous" and "easily dismissible."

That's the ease conveyed by two headlines I found elsewhere.
Impeachment and the death of parody
We should mourn parody’s demise
You'll find the first version on the Star's website.

What the Star's Creative Headline Writing Team wrote is a classic example of false equivalency. "I guess both Schiff and the Republicans were acting badly," it implies. If Crisp wrote that, fine, but it's nowhere to be found in his column.

In 2010 I posted regularly about the Star's tendency to rewrite headlines to make them more conservative-friendly. I even conducted a poll where readers could choose the worst Star headline of the year. For years after that, I rarely spotted a blatantly misleading headline. Until recently, that is. In September I caught at least three of them in the print edition.

If it sounds like I'm nitpicking, I'm not. Headlines are the first thing people read — for many stories the only thing they read. When the heads don't accurately reflect the content of the story, readers get an incorrect sense of the story. Even if people read beyond the headline, those words in big, boldface type have an effect on how they understand the actual story.

As I looked into this most recent example of headline revisionism by the Star, I wondered, am I missing any other instances in the same issue of the paper? To see, I checked the headline of every story that wasn't written by the Star's staff. What I found surprised me.

At least eight headlines were unique to the Star. Most of them didn't change the meaning of the headline. I imagine the changes were made to create a better fit in the space provided. No problem there. But two were significantly different.

One was on a story about members of the Trump administration and their allies trying to stack the board of a Ukrainian energy company. According to the article, "Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies." That's smells a whole lot like corruption, which is reflected in the original AP headline.
Profit, not politics: Trump allies sought Ukraine gas deal
That's a damning, accurate headline. The Star decided to take the punch out of it.
Trump allies sought gas deal with Ukraine
You have to be something of a news junky like me to understand why a story with such a bland headline might be worth reading.

The other is an article by Howard Fischer about Ducey's latest appointment of a new prison chief. Fischer thinks there is more to the story than just introducing the new guy. His first sentence lays out a potential red flag about the appointee.
The new head of the state Department of Corrections is a career employee of the federal Bureau of Prisons, where last year he instituted a policy that restricted access to books by inmates. 
This is a guy who went out of his way to make it more difficult for inmates to get ahold of books. Fischer thought that was important enough to spotlight it in his headline:
New Arizona prison boss once restricted books for inmates
For some reason, the Star decided to bury the controversy.
Ducey appoints new chief for state prisons
Ho hum. Nothing to see here, readers. Move along.

Three misleading headline revisions in a single issue of the paper? That sounds intentional. I have to wonder, why is an otherwise high quality local daily going out of its way to change headlines for the worse?

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