It's a fair cop.
Tom Chivers, the estimable blogger for Britain's Telegraph, loves American newspapers, which he finds "considered, thoughtful and impartial" (at least by British standards). But our headline writing strikes him as solid mahogany.
From The New York Times he quotes "Letter Raises Questions About When BBC Ex-Chief Learned of Abuse Cases." "Wow, punchy. I stopped reading by the third word," he says, and he's right. The reader will likely have nodded off long before getting to the excitement of "Abuse Cases." Huh?Wozzat? Is it morning already?
It is not just The Times that overdoes the sobriety. Mr. Chivers finds this specimen in The Washington Post: "Mitt Romney's prepschool classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents." (That would have been about allegations of homophobic bullying.) In headline writing, this is analogous to the solecism of burying the lead in the sixth paragraph.
Newspapers have been hammered for so long with accusations of liberal bias* that their even-handedness extends to outrageous fatuities (think Jenny McCarthy on immunizations and autism, Donald Trump's birtherism). Just so, it is safer to write bland headlines. Readers do not call in or send letters to the editor about wooden headlines, and I have never heard of a copy editor being chastised by the high command for dullness in headline writing.
For that matter, of the 60,000 or 70,000 or however many I have written over three decades, many, perhaps most, will give off a telltale dull thunk when percussed.
If you, like Mr. Chivers, find us wanting as headline writers, you are welcome to supply your own specimens below for examination.
*Mr. Chivers opens his article with a little joke about the adherence of The Times to "the grand global socialist conspiracy of which I am myself a minor but loyal proponent. All hail Gramsci! Nate Silver the Math Witch, bless us with your communist number-magic!" Unsurprisingly, some people have written comments taking him seriously. To spare you, dear people, the strain of running the gantlet of our comments function, I will stipulate that I have been previously accused of being either a sleeper agent or dupe of the socialist Kenyan Muslim Communist crypto-fascist United Nation conspiracy to destroy the Constitution and extinguish all our freedoms, for which I am paid in Soviet gold.
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