Butting headlines

Seen on DWR’s California Water News compilation this morning:

“Calif. snowpack outlook grim for water” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“California on pace for a good water year” (Capital Press).

I, of all people, probably shouldn’t play the role of media critic, but neither headline is a perfect representation of the story.

The Chron piece is actually about a new Stanford study predicting diminished snowpack in the future. To me, at least, the headline implies that the situation is “grim” right now — this winter — which it’s not (at least not yet).

While the Capital Press headline claims California is “on pace” for a good water year, the story itself says reservoir levels are where they need to be “to avoid severe drought conditions and water cutbacks in 2013.” Not quite so rosy, eh?

Headline writing is a lot harder than people think. Just ask my wife, who is a copy editor at this very newspaper. They have to be short and snappy, they have to perfectly fit within a certain space for the print publication, and it’s almost impossible sometimes to adequately capture the nuances of the story.

Still, when you compare these two headlines side by side, is it any wonder people get frustrated with the media?

I’ll just tell you what I tell anyone who calls to complain about a headline on one of my stories: “Just so you know, I didn’t write that!”

And I’ll also say “Thank you!” to the many copy editors who have saved my bacon over the years. Including Annie.

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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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