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8 Feb 2010

Headlines and Deadlines

Posted by Lisette Stevens

No, this is not about furrowed brows or penalty clauses re:  finishing the job late or indeed about anything really crucial; perhaps just a mild observation about the written word in newspaper form.

Through the Caribbean islands, the presence and usefulness of the local newspaper in hard copy is an integral part of the social infrastructure, whether it is good, bad or indifferent tidings, it gets devoured one way or the other. Some islands have a daily paper; others have an edition once or twice a week.

The thing that amazes me is the way that headlines for these journals are chosen for any given day. Take a fairly busy tourist island, in the Eastern Caribbean, let’s say; the banner headline on the first page of its main newspaper will invariably mention the main crime of the last 24 hours: this could be a murder, an assault, a rape etc.etc. – boasting a font size of anything between 48 & 75 and visible clearly via roadside vendors from moving traffic. However on the inside pages the real issues of the day, such as immigration, price hikes, parliament and so forth are tucked away in a less dramatic style.

An example of a misconstrued front page headline appeared recently on a well known and popular island north of Dominica. It read: “Tourist Maimed in Chopping Spree”. This was interpreted by many – who never bought the paper – as an attack by some villain, carrying a cutlass/machete against a visitor, when in fact the injury was inflicted accidently during a light hearted frolic, where cruise ship tourists were invited to compete against each other. The object being that each competitor, with provided cutlass was assigned a clump of derelict banana trees and the individual that felled the most trees in 5 minutes would be awarded a bottle of champagne at the captain’s table. Thankfully, the injury was superficial and the local medics did a great job of patching up the guy’s Achilles heel. Yet, some people left that island convinced there was a danger element on the patch to some degree, simply because of a banner headline.

Obviously, this headline thing is not a regular anomaly, but why jeopardize anyone’s impression of a certain piece of paradise by a flippant choice of emotive phrases from an editor or suchlike minions that are not thought through?

Of course, for a popular rag or newspaper to say, “We Are Banishing Headlines!” is a headline in itself

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