As a state lawmaker and governor of Florida, Bob Graham would spend a day working another job. Over the years, he was teacher, a busboy and a baggage handler, if just for eight hours. By doing so, Graham got a sense, however briefly, of what it was like to be a person who did those tasks full time.
I’m hoping that North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, will consider trying a job for a day — namely, an eight-hour shift on a newspaper copy desk or at a news website.
My suggestion is prompted by this interview with The Charlotte Observer, in which Gov. McCrory criticizes the media’s coverage of his administration. This quote about headlines caught my eye in particular:
“A lot of it is the headline writers. They change the words, put a new word in it, and then when the headline goes out the next thing, it becomes the story. That’s probably the biggest issue I have with the media is the headline writers.”
McCrory is not the first politician to complain about headlines. Everyday readers will fret over an editor’s choice of verbs, among other things.
To be sure, some headlines fall short, some infamously so. They are written by humans, who are fallible. But every day (and in the digital age, every moment), news organizations publish headlines that are accurate.
Headline writing is difficult. A well-worded headline conveys news and entices the reader to read more. It matches the tone of the story and the tone of the publication.
In print, a headline may be in a confining one-column design, limiting the editor’s choice of words. For online media, headline writers have to consider search engine optimization and the fact that the headline may appear on an app or in social media, with no photo or other context.
When done well, headline writing reflects the creativity of the editor. It’s an art form that can lead to memorable moments. That’s why the American Copy Editors Society sponsors an annual headline contest.
So here’s my suggestion to the governor: Take a day and try your hand at headline writing. There’s the McClatchy editing/design hub in Charlotte and a similar operation in Hickory. Our State magazine, based in Greensboro, has headlines from cover to cover. Or if you prefer digital news, work a shift at WRAL.com or a similar site.
I think you will see, as Bob Graham did, that every job brings its challenges and rewards, and that like so many things in life, headline writing isn’t as easy as it looks.