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It's all in the headline

October 12, 2010 - Jennifer Houtman
Writing a good headline isn't easy. We are lucky to have some talented, veteran headline writers at The Marietta Times. Sometimes we nail it, and sometimes we don't. But every day, we get to do it all over again.

Take Monday's printed edition of The Marietta Times. We got it wrong, and we heard about it. We heard from readers about the headline: "Elderly woman injured trying to allude dogs." What we meant to say was she was trying to "elude" the dogs. Well, mistakes happen. Our reporters and editors are human, they aren't computers and they aren't robots. Misspellings occur, and sometimes the wrong word is used. When it happens, we talk about it, learn from it and move on.

Often people assume the reporter who writes the story also writes the headline. That's not the case. Once a reporter files a story to be edited it is out of their hands and passed on to the copy desk. A copy editor whose job it is to lay out a specific page then has the task of writing headlines for the stories that appear on that page.

Are there no proofreaders you ask? Well, not like there used to be. Years ago newspapers had people on the payroll whose main job was to proofread, but that isn't the case anymore. We spell check stories and headlines, and editors will proof each other's pages, but sometimes a mistake still gets by.

We understand that can frustrate readers. It frustrates me, too. But I also understand that an occasional mistake comes with the territory.

Writing a headline can be a lot of fun, but it can be stressful, too. The number one goal is to be accurate and to reflect the news of the story. A headline should have the right tone and shouldn't be too cute or clever. But that doesn't mean a good headline can't be entertaining.

We appreciate the fact that some readers on Monday called to point out our mistake (just in case we missed it.) I'm glad you're reading the paper and care enough to call. We, like you, are frustrated when mistakes happen and we will work hard to avoid those mistakes as much as possible.


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