Headlines are subs’ standard, not substandard -Times Online
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/commen ... 025645.ece
Headlines making headlines. On Wednesday Douglas Robertson wrote from Weybridge: “How would you care to set to one side for a moment your copy of Fowler, and hear a gripe from a mathematician/ engineer? There is a headline on page 8 declaring ‘Free care at home Bill could cost more than £1bn’. No it won’t — the cost could be more than £1bn a year. It’s not, as the headline implies, a one-off cost, but a recurring one — and there is a world of difference. It is most irritating to one for whom accurate mensuration is as much a matter of pedantry as is correct English usage. Perhaps your sub-editors might take note?”
I have mentioned before the trouble that headlines can cause. The Press Complaints Commission acknowledges that headlines pose particular challenges as they are, of necessity, an extreme reduction of a complex story. For this reason the PCC routinely says that it expects readers to obtain their facts from the whole text of the story, not merely the headline. In this instance we made it clear in line three of the first paragraph, and throughout the report, that we were referring to annual costs.
Still, at least Mr Robertson is aware of the role of sub-editors; many readers believe that writers also supply headlines for their copy (a recent complaint began “On the presumption that Richard Morrison wrote the headline to his article, would someone please tell him . . .”). Susan Peters thinks it would be better if they did: “In the days of printing presses it must have been a tricky, specialist business manipulating the type to create headlines to fit the page. Now that pages and type size can be manipulated with ease on a computer, I have often wondered why journalists still don’t seem to be given the task of writing the headlines for their own copy. Surely it would be quicker and easier for journalists immersed in a story to come up with an appropriate and accurate headline rather than a poor sub-editor battling against the clock.”
New technology hasn’t really made headline-writing much easier. If a designer lays out a page with a 72pt headline in three lines across two columns(about eight measly characters per line), that’s what the subs have to write — they can’t do a 20-word headline and manipulate the design to accommodate it.
The big difference now is that subs can write the headline directly into the page on screen and see immediately what fits, rather than scribbling it on a piece of paper and engaging in the laborious and lost art of character counting. But headline writing remains a specialist skill; great headline writers, especially on features, are highly prized creatures. And of course reporters can’t know, when they file their copy, which parts will survive the editing process, so their headline might fail to reflect the finished version. Even in the age of multiskilling, on the whole reporters report, and subs do the rest.
The long and short Peter Jenkin observes: “A recent front page included the following: ‘Lord Myners told peers that “behavioural consequences of the new higher rate of taxation” — shorthand for tax avoidance — had forced the Treasury to lower its expectations.’ Short? Well, let us be kind and assume irony rather than an inability to count words. The normal phrase nowadays is ‘code for’, but that is a little curt after such magnificent prolixity. How about ‘alluding to’?” Actually, “longhand for” would have done nicely.
And John Boulton asks: “Should I draw a matter to someone’s attention, or should I draw someone’s attention to a matter? I just can’t decide which is the more obviously drawable (or ductile) — a matter or an attention. Fowler is silent on the issue, sadly — he’s just the chap who would have had an opinion.” I’m rarely short of an opinion myself, but I’ve tried several permutations in my head and can’t help feeling that the drawing works equally well in both directions.
Verbal gymnastics Frank Molyneux writes from Norwich: “David Aaronovitch does not disappoint in his use of words. I wrote some 18 months ago about his use of ‘steatopygic’, and last week he surpassed himself with the word ‘yclept’. I suspect that, like me, many readers thought this was a misprint; however, research online reveals that the word does exist and means ‘named’. Why did DA not use ‘named’ in his article, and why did the subs not change it so we all knew what he meant?”
Personally I’m pleased when writers expand my vocabulary with exotica, even if they make me reach for my dictionaries (and these words are both in Collins and the OED). Wouldn’t it impoverish us if subs routinely reduced every article to the same few hundred thousand words?
On the other hand, Robin Warne e-mails: “Congratulations are in order to your environment editor, Ben Webster, and to the sub-editor who allowed him to get away with it. He quoted Professor Beddington, talking about climate change, as saying: ‘All of these predictions have to be caveated ... ’. If this hadn’t been a quote it would undoubtedly have been excised as offending every pedant who has written to Feedback (and those pedants, myself included, who have not previously done so). We know by now that there is no noun that cannot be verbed. But here is a Latin verb, Englished, nouned, and then verbed again — which makes it something special!”
Aw shucks, it was nothing, although I must say I take pride in having brought you this week mensuration, steatopygic, yclept, ductile and prolixity, all in one column. Talk about value for money.
[Retrieved: Sat Feb 13 2010 20:15:27 GMT+0000 (GMT Standard Time)]