Memorable headlines: Dewey defeats Truman

dewey-defeats-truman1Copy 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 second in a series of posts on memorable headlines.

THE HEADLINE: Dewey defeats Truman

THE NEWSPAPER: Chicago Tribune

THE STORY: Thomas Dewey was favored to defeat Harry Truman in the 1948 presidential election. Truman, however, pulled off the win to secure re-election. He famously flaunted the paper with the inaccurate headline, a photo that is itself as memorable as the headline.

ITS SIGNIFICANCE: This is probably the most famous headline blunder in U.S. history. It’s a product of early deadlines, among other obstacles and miscues.

It’s still a part of today’s politics, as John McCain showed in October 2008. Whenever a candidate is ahead in the polls and appears to be a shoo-in, someone will bring up this headline as a warning not to call an election over before it’s really over.

The Truman headline is also a common point of reference in popular culture as the object of parodies on “The Simpsons” and in The Onion. It’s even been monetized.


Q&A with Lauren Purcell, deputy editor at Self magazine

Lauren Purcell is deputy editor at Self magazine. As one of two Purcell Sisters, she is also the co-author of “Cocktail Parties, Straight Up!” Although she learned her editing chops at UNC-Chapel Hill, Purcell is loyal to her undergraduate alma mater and always pulls for the Duke Blue Devils.

This Q&A, conducted by e-mail, takes a look at Purcell’s job and the tasks of editing at the magazine.

Q. Describe your job. What’s it like to be a deputy editor at Self?

This job is amazingly varied, which is part of what I love about it, but I’ll describe my main role. Magazines have what are loosely called assigning editors as well as top editors who provide another editing layer for the content the assigning eds produce. I act as the top editor for Self’s fitness, fashion and celebrity/entertainment coverage, as well as a front-of-book gazette-style section and various special sections and one-off projects. At various times in the past, I’ve overseen health, beauty and nutrition. (I’ve been here for quite a while, and switching things up every few years has helped me stay fresh.)

Q. You had some newspaper training and experience earlier in your career and in graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What are the differences between editing for newspapers and editing for magazines?

A. My newspaper experience was very brief and many years ago, and newspapers have, to my mind, increasingly employed what I think of as magazine-style strategies since then. But one major difference—and it’s one that makes editing magazines especially challenging and creative—is that the text and visuals are inextricably entwined on many magazine pages, as opposed to an image, drawing or chart serving simply as an illustration, as is more typical in newspapers. (For instance, at Self, we might conceive an entire story as a chart, rather than writing a story and then enhancing it with a chart.) The need for writer-editors to think visually, craft stories in an array of formats beyond straight narrative and collaborate with layout designers makes for a very rich editing experience.

Q. Many journalism students want to go into magazine editing. What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the business?

A. When I’m interviewing someone for an entry-level position, I want him or her to show me a passion for magazines. Apply for internships — sure, those at major national books are great, but having several gigs at smaller publications shows me just as much dedication. Write or edit for on-campus or local magazines. I want to know that you pursued every avenue to be involved with magazines on some level. And of course, read magazines voraciously and be able to talk about them with enthusiasm.

Q. The magazine industry, along with other segments of the media, has been hit with layoffs and cutbacks in recent months. What do you see as the future for magazines in print and online?

A. I’ve been hearing about the so-called “death of print” for years now, and yet, Self’s audience continues to grow both in print and online, and readers tell us they value both experiences. The increasing vitality of online efforts by magazines isn’t evidence that the print model isn’t working — to the contrary, it shows that we’re learning how much we can enrich both the pages in your hand and those on your computer screen by having them work together. I rarely edit a piece these days without making plans for what its presence online at can add for the reader — extra content, interactivity, mobile access, etc. Though the current climate feels very tough, from where I sit, magazines (not all, but many) have a bright future.

UPDATE: In December 2011, Purcell was named editor in chief of Everyday with Rachael Ray.

Guest post: Wikipedia — fact or fiction?

Students in my Advanced Editing course are contributors to The Editor’s Desk this semester. They are free to write about whatever they wish, provided that the topic fits the theme for this blog: “thoughts on editing for print and online media.”

This is the 11th of these guest posts. Jessica Stringer is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. She loves UNC for its journalism program and basketball team. She also loves traveling, movies and her semester abroad in London.

My roommate sat with her brow furrowed as she worked on a Wikipedia page for class. An hour after publishing, her edits were gone. Another user had just deleted a week’s worth of work.

Oh, Wikipedia. An online encyclopedia sounded like a good idea, but the site that professors warned us about is teeming with mistakes and bias.

It’s been three months since Wikipedia said it would consider restricting who could make edits to pages. The new system would allow only reliable users to make immediate changes. Other contributors’ changes would not be posted until a reliable, registered user had approved the change.

What’s the holdup?  The German Wikipedia has been using this system since May. Wikipedia needs to adopt the system soon to rid the site of ridiculous and untrue statements.

Adding in an extra layer of editing would eliminate biased and ignorant users who use Wikipedia as a sounding board. It would also protect honest users like my roommate who make researched and thoughtful changes.

Some argue that the German system is too labor-intensive and takes too long to update. Here’s a suggestion: Find some jobless journalists who already have the investigative skills and editing know-how and put them to work at Wikipedia.

Can’t wait for Wikipedia to get its editing act together? Switch to Citizendium, where experts write reliable and quality articles. Created by one of the founders of Wikipedia, the site is catching on and chock-full of information.

And to the vandals: Save the political views for message boards or dinnertime debate. Better yet, get a blog.

Where in the world are the Somali pirates?

somalia-map1The Somali pirates make for an interesting story. Whenever they seize a ship, they make news, and copy editors get to use “pirates” in headlines.

Coverage of the most recent act of piracy has been interesting to observe too. The Huffington Post couldn’t resist using an “ARGHHH!” headline and file image of a pirate flag. Cable news offers each incremental development in the story as “breaking news.”

U.S. newspapers have been more restrained in their coverage. Yet they are missing some opportunities to provide the context that other media are overlooking. That sort of context is a strength of newspapers, in print and online.

First, this locator map from The Associated Press is as bare-bones as they come. The map needs to include an inset to tell us where in the world this is. Somalia, like South Ossetia, isn’t easy for most people to find on a globe. Beyond that bit of basic information, expanding the map to show shipping lanes and pirate strongholds might be helpful too.

Second, some explanation is needed with this story. We need a pirate primer, and a textbox is an ideal way to address questions that readers may have about this story. Here are some categories to use in setting up an alternative story form about the Somali pirates:

  • Who they are
  • What they want
  • How they operate
  • How they can be stopped
  • What’s next

And hey, maybe put the map into the textbox too, like this Q&A from the BBC does. And put it online. These are the things newspapers can do to set themselves apart from their competitors.

Watch Yer Language has a new home

One of my favorite editing blogs, Watch Yer Language, has moved. Craig Lancaster, blogger and copy desk chief for the Billings Gazette in Montana, says the change is part of an effort to bring the newspaper’s online efforts under one roof of social media.

Lancaster says that the blog will continue to be, as he describes it, “a clearinghouse for style and usage tips that emanate from my workaday life.” He’s also the author of two books, including the novel “Six-Hundred Hours of a Life.”

Tar Heels take championship, so fans take newspapers


The Daily Tar Heel, like most college papers, is free. Every weekday, anyone may pick up a copy in newsracks throughout the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and in downtown Chapel Hill.

That easy access to the news changes on certain occasions. Sometimes papers disappear in bunches because people don’t like what’s printed there. Other times, the papers disappear because people do like what’s printed there.

That’s what happened the day after the Tar Heels won the national championship in men’s basketball. The Daily Tar Heel planned for the possibility that a victory in the title game would make the newspaper a valuable piece of property. The paper published this advisory on its front page and online to let readers know how they could get a copy of the paper the day after the game and beyond. It included this warning to those who would take multiple copies:

The bulk removal of large numbers of copies in excess of what’s reasonable will be considered theft and will be dealt with as such. … In addition, if you have not purchased additional copies of the DTH, then we believe that selling free copies is an infringement of our copyright, and we will pursue all remedies available to us as we have successfully in the past.

That admonition, however, is not deterring some people from grabbing dozens of copies from boxes. Others, like the man in the photo above, are playing by the rules.

Either way, it seems that everyone wants a copy of this edition. That’s because on occasion, a printed newspaper has tremendous value as a keepsake (and as a resale item on eBay). People will do anything to get one — or more. (I confess to taking two copies of this edition of the DTH: one for my family and another for the silent auction at the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society.)

For more on the keepsake value of newspapers versus the interactivity of online, take a look at this post by my colleague Ryan Thornburg. And if you want to buy a copy of that historic issue of the DTH, try here.

UPDATE: General manager Kevin Schwartz writes about the day and the demand.

Memorable headlines: Ford to city: Drop dead

ford-dropdeadCopy 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 first in a series of posts on memorable headlines.

THE HEADLINE: Ford to city: Drop dead

THE NEWSPAPER: (New York) Daily News

THE STORY: In 1975, President Gerald Ford denied a request from New York City for a bailout. The city was struggling financially at the time and sought federal help.

ITS SIGNIFICANCE: This headline speaks to the power of the paraphrase. Ford didn’t use the words “drop dead,” but the headline writer summarized his position that way. The turn of words may have altered American politics; Ford said the “very unfair” headline cost him the 1976 election. Both Ford and the man who wrote the headline died a few years ago, but the “drop dead” phrasing continues to be a source of conversation and inspiration.