This isn’t the first time this headline has happened

virgin-pboy

This headline from Reuters follows all of the rules. It’s direct and engaging, and it uses proper names that provide detail and make the story “findable” on search engines.

It’s also one of the best “virgin” headlines since this gem from the days of the Cold War:

Soviet virgin lands short of goal again

Did you read it as “virgin lands” as a unit and put in a “to be” verb to make this make sense? Probably not. It’s too much fun to read it the other way. That’s usually the case in these double entendre headlines.

Thanks to John McIntyre of You Don’t Say for pointing out this latest example.

Is Sonia Sotomayor front-page news?

John Robinson, the editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., asks an interesting question on Twitter:  “Unlike other big papers in NC, we didn’t publish wire story on Sotomayor on A1. Not local. Not news (by a.m. publication). Bad call?”

Most daily newspapers in North Carolina did have the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court on their front pages this morning. Raleigh, Charlotte, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Durham and Winston-Salem all had a Sotomayor story on 1A. The High Point paper did not, and neither did Greensboro, though it was mentioned in a promo at the top of the front page in the News & Record. (See them while they last at the Freedom Forum site.)

Here’s a way to rephrase Robinson’s question: When do editors for print media decide when news cycle trumps a story’s significance? That’s the question with this story, which broke at about 9 a.m. EDT Monday. It was covered extensively on cable TV and on newspaper Web sites throughout the day.

Where does that leave the story for print media? What can readers of a regional daily like the News & Record get out of a story that is 24 hours old? When is a story stale?

The Sept. 11 attacks are a good example of when a story’s significance outweighs its place in the daily churn of news. It’s hard to imagine anyone waking up on Sept. 12, 2001, and getting the paper off the driveway to discover that the United States had been attacked by terrorists. But the front pages of papers across the nation had that as their one story, for obvious reasons.

The Sotomayor story isn’t as monumental as the 9/11 attacks. It is big news, however, because it is President Obama’s first selection for the Supreme Court. And Sotomayor herself is historically significant as the first Hispanic on the court, assuming that she is confirmed and you don’t count Benjamin Cardozo. It would be a bigger story if Sotomayor were in line to succeed a conservative judge such as Antonin Scalia rather than a relatively liberal one like David Souter.

So my answer to Robinson’s question is, “It depends.”

If your paper can use the wire services and your own reporting in a way that brings more to the nomination story than what was reported Monday, then put Sotomayor on the front page. Print newspapers and their Web sites are still useful at adding the context that cable TV overlooked. Emphasize that. Use headlines that recognize that most readers know the gist of the story — and indicate that this story package will tell them things that they don’t know about it.

That’s what the Raleigh paper did, using a McClatchy story that offered a forward-looking view of the nomination along with textboxes and locally flavored sidebars. Curiously, the Charlotte paper used an Associated Press story on the front page, even though it is owned by McClatchy, as is the N&O.

If your newspaper emphasizes local news and breaking news, perhaps the Sotomayor story is not a good fit for your front page. That’s especially true if you have a solid lineup of local stories vying for space on 1A.

That’s not good or bad, but a matter of choice. And making choices is what editors do every day.

UPDATE: Robinson collects responses to his question on his blog.

Q&A with Gregory Kohs of Akahele

Gregory Kohs is a marketing research practitioner with more than 17 years of experience in the field, mostly with research suppliers, but for the past two years with Comcast Corp. He is also an Internet junkie, blogger and gadfly, having launched three enterprises on the web since 1995 — two of them for-profit and one of them (the most recent) a non-profit called Internet Review Corporation. In this e-mail interview, Kohs discusses his latest non-profit start-up, which publishes a weekly blog called Akahele.

Q. What is the objective of Akahele?

A. Akahele.org is actually the communications arm of a registered non-profit group that I co-founded, the Internet Review Corporation. The word “akahele” means “careful” or “cautious” — the opposite of the word “wiki.” Our mission is to draw attention to unprofessional and unethical practices and content on the Internet. We strive to present complex issues to the average citizen, while deepening our commitment to values like respect for others, personal responsibility, high-quality information, attribution of work and common courtesy.

Q. How can journalists use the site?

A. We see an inordinate quantity of news and opinion stories written by journalists who seem to have affixed rose-colored glasses whenever their focus lands on an Internet-based business or personality. They eagerly sing the praises of Google, Twitter, MySpace, Wikipedia, YouTube, and other Web 2.0 vehicles, without seeming to take a moment’s pause to consider or identify the potentially harmful drawbacks of any of these sites. In a way, it’s ironic, because there’s a strong argument that Web 2.0 is very much killing the standards and value of traditional journalism — imagine a flu patient hammering the nails into his own coffin!

Akahele.org takes a very measured, cautious (dare I say “skeptical”?) view of the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Good journalists who wish to add an offsetting viewpoint to the “rah rah” journalism that permeates today’s mainstream are encouraged to read any of our weekly archived articles at Akahele.org. Participate in the comments field, or — better yet — submit a guest article to further explore the problems we’re facing on the Internet.

Q. You are a critic of Wikipedia. What is it about the site that bothers you the most?

A. Let me clarify. I was rather hopeful that Wikipedia could become something extremely valuable, if it were supervised and led by professionals who have the understanding, care and experience needed to manage information and scholarship. Instead, the Wikimedia Foundation that hosts Wikipedia is clearly intent on a “hands off,” “let the community decide” approach to knowledge management. The result is a haphazard, even ridiculed, end product. Indeed, it is difficult to find anyone at all on the WMF board of trustees who has any experience whatsoever in publishing quality content.

Thus, society is treated to not only “user-generated knowledge,” but also “mob mentality” resolution of any content disputes. Corrective edits are reverted by administrators who dislike the personality or tone of the editor who is actually correct about the topic. Experts are routinely driven off the project by teenagers. In so many ways, Wikipedia has become as much an online revenge platform as it is an encyclopedia, and the leadership who literally and figuratively own the servers don’t do anything to challenge this because that might be seen as interfering with “free culture.”

And that’s really my key objection to Wikipedia. What started as a project to build a useful, accurate, dependable encyclopedia has transformed into a pep rally for the “free culture movement.” If I may borrow a summary issued by my friend and independent scholar of inquiry systems, Jon Awbrey: All of that good content on Wikipedia is parasitic on prior traditions of research and scholarship that the wiki-parasite is destroying as quickly as it feeds off its host.

Q. As the traditional media struggle financially, what do you think the future holds for the standards of truth and verification in the press?

A. My view is terribly pessimistic, and it saddens me. I’m also not trained in the practice or management of journalism enterprises, so my opinion isn’t worth much here, I’m afraid. But my observation is that public relations puff pieces apparently are more effective at selling advertising than are hard-hitting investigative challenges to the status quo.

I hope and pray that there still is a market segment out there like myself, who is both tired of such repetitive regurgitation of press release content and government-issued “talking points,” who would be very willing to pay (on either a subscription or, preferably, a per-use basis of micro-payments) for the output of a journalism team that truly breaks open new stories, backed by difficult-to-obtain facts and eyewitness testimony. While I’m resigned to the conclusion that perhaps 80 percent of people won’t pay for the values of truth and verification, maybe there’s a market for it among the remaining 20 percent.

My titans of Twitter

It’s been more than three months since I started using Twitter. Overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised about how helpful the service is. Who knew you could learn so much in 140 characters or less?

I’ve also realized that I have some favorite Twitter people (or Tweeple, if you insist) on my “follow” list. Each of these people brings a mix of voice and information that I find interesting and amusing. With due respect to everyone I follow on Twitter, here are the four people (in no particular order) whose Tweets I especially appreciate and enjoy:

John Robinson, Greensboro News & Record. Robinson is candid about his job as editor of this newspaper, and that shows in his Tweets. He also has a droll sense of humor. Sample Tweet: “Some in our ad dept. wish we wouldn’t run stories about newspaper troubles. Some in our news dept. wish the ad dept. would sell more ads.” Follow Robinson at @johnrobinson.

Leslie Jean Thornton, Arizona State University. On editing topics, Thornton is like the Romenesko of Twitter. Nothing seems to get by her. Sample Tweet: “Just bookmarked JPROF, Jim Stovall’s blog for teaching journalism. http://bit.ly/3qUDxg Current post: Audio III.” Follow Thornton at @ljthornton.

Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times. This LAT editor specializes in Tweeting speeches by President Obama and other leaders as they happen. He has a knack for analysis and detail that’s often missing from  speech stories in the traditional media. Sample Tweet: “Political point: As he often does, Obama pushes common action to make political change. Such is the organizer heritage. #Obama.” Follow Muskal at @LATimesmuskal.

Veronique de Turenne, L.A. Observed. A blogger, playwright and critic, de Turenne offers a blend of news and personal observations, the latter about daily life in her beloved Malibu, Calif. Sample Tweet: “Early Sunday crowd at Trancas market evenly split between hardcore surfers and hardcore hangovers.” Follow de Turenne at @HereInMalibu.

Who do you like on Twitter? Please share your favorites in the comments section.

A different kind of city editor

Raleigh, N.C., is known as the City of Oaks. The city government includes an Urban Forestry Division, and the city’s seal is festooned with leaves. On New Year’s Eve, a giant acorn is dropped downtown as thousands ring in the new year.

This town loves its trees.

Raleigh has a harder time with its words, however. A recent story in The News & Observer noted that the city’s tree ordinance is riddled with jargon. Terms such as “critical root zone” and “basal area ratio” make it hard for people to understand what they can and cannot do to trees. Even the mayor, a lawyer with an Ivy League education, is frustrated.

Perhaps some editing would help. Allow me to suggest that Raleigh hire a “city editor” to translate all government jargon into plain English. The first task would be to prune the tree ordinance.

I’m confident that “city editor” would be a full-time job. And thanks to recent decisions by McClatchy, there are plenty of talented editors in the area to choose from.

Memorable headlines: BASTARDS!

Copy editors at newspapers spend a great deal of time and energy on writing headlines. And for good reason — headlines attract attention, and some live on decades after they are written. This is the fourth in a series of posts on memorable headlines.

bastards-headlineTHE HEADLINE: BASTARDS!

THE NEWSPAPER: The San Francisco Examiner

THE STORY: On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airliners on U.S. soil, flying two into the World Trade Center towers and another into the Pentagon. The fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died.

ITS SIGNIFICANCE: Writing a headline about an event like the 9/11 attacks is a challenge. It’s a story that all readers know about when they pick up that issue of the newspaper. Yet it’s news of tremendous importance, and a newspaper front page — and its headlines — can show that. Plus, those front pages will be collected for posterity.

Some newspapers used quotes from President Bush or other newsmakers as their headlines. Other papers used their own words to convey a somber, day-after tone. The Examiner took a different route, tapping into the raw emotion of the moment. By using the all-caps headline, an inflammatory noun and a fiery image, the paper communicated a message of anger.

To be sure, that day was marked by a range of emotions, including anger. As the paper’s editor, David Burgin, said at the time: “It fit the rage.” Some disagreed, but as seen here, “BASTARDS!” has maintained its power over the years.

UPDATE: In June 2014, Burgin died after a series of strokes. Stories about his death, such as this one from the Orlando Sentinel, mentioned the famous headline.