I wrote this headline
It's probably impolitic to say this, but Michael Kinsley's broadside against the stylistic conventions of newspapers makes some good points. Call it the Jason DeParle problem: Would you rather read 10,000 words from Jason DeParle's books, magazine pieces, or newspaper articles? I've been a DeParle fan for years, and I think "American Dream" is one of the greatest works of policy reporting ever put to paper. But I can't recall a single news article I've read from him offhand.
The role of the newspaper has changed a lot in the past 50 years. The writing hasn't. That puts it at a disadvantage against mediums that have constructed themselves in more recent eras. But Kinsley's article brings up another rule I'd like to see changed. His headline is "Cut This Story," which doesn't really describe his critique. Kinsley is arguing that the stories are inefficiently written. Lopping off 600 words at random wouldn't help readers.
Kinsley might have chosen that headline himself. Most writers -- and this goes for magazines as much as newspapers, too -- don't. Then, when they get criticized for a misleading or sensationalized headline that governs how the story is understood, they protest that it's not their fault. That's nonsense. It's not just that more people read the headline than the story, but the headline is the lens through which readers interpret the story. All writers should have to sign off on their headlines. Take responsibility for your work.
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