Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Importance of Reading the Story

My friend Jim Babka, the head of Downsize DC, has an excellent post on their blog about the importance of reading beyond the headlines. So often the headline oversimplifies. And as an editor, I can tell you that this isn’t just because of some intent to deceive readers. It’s also because it’s just hard to sum up a complex subject in a few words.

I hate writing headlines. It is very difficult to write a headline that is A) accurate; B) brief (at AINN, we try to keep headlines around 50 letters for SEO purposes); C) grammatically correct; and D) still well written and with a bit of style. It sometimes takes me as long to write the headline as it does to write or edit the story.

HEADLINE: Secretary Palpatine Accuses Publisher of Treason

This sounds terrible. What has this publisher done? Read the first paragraph of the piece and you still might be under-informed.

“Julian Ellsberg, publisher of the website, NowYouKnow.com, has posted documents classified by the government, regarding the war with Chaostan. In a statement, Secretary of State Palpatine declared, ‘We believe this action will put American lives at risk. This is treason.'”

Mr. Ellsberg should be hung, right? But now read all the way to the end of piece and you learn . . .

* Secretary Palpatine is the former CEO of a major government contractor.
* The contractor is responsible for the indiscriminate killing of innocents, undermining the security plan that was sold to the people by the administration.
* The report may well have been “classified” because the Secretary was trying to minimize embarrassment. [In fact, you’d be surprised by how many “State secrets” are secrets because they contain information that would be demoralizing and politically harmful to a cause or group. “CYA”]

Now, should Mr. Ellsberg be executed?

Of course, this isn’t just a problem with the headline. It’s highly unlikely that you would learn any of that stuff about Secretary Palpatine in the mainstream media anyway. Because the reporter wants to maintain access to Palpatine and if he publishes that kind of thing, he won’t get any more leaks from his office or be invited on the plane for the next junket.