Lede Eclipsing Headlines

Author Godfrey Chitalu

…IDEATIONS…GoddyChitty @Large with Godfrey Chitalu

THERE has been an online storm in a teacup that has been hyped by one popular blogger who relentlessly corrects grammar and spellings for the entire country. I normally stay out of other people’s lanes, especially if their lanes are of national character and attract thousands of pedestrians. My interest in this simile lane however stems from the fact that one ‘digging’ national newspaper has been put on the pedestal. The paper, which churns out balanced material, was identified, wrongly or rightly as a purveyor of grammatically incorrect headlines.

Since not every Tom, Dick and Harry had occasion to go to journalism schools, it could augur well if I was allowed to explain the philosophy of newspaper headlines. A newspaper headline is just a line of words printed in bold letters at the start of an article or the main points of electronic news. For starters, newspaper headline is an in-house industry whose main aim is to attract readers to hold on to the paper until they finish reading the entire article.

My explanation is borne out of interest and has nothing to do with whether or not I went to any journalism school. In any case, as someone who writes for pleasure, it is always important to provide alternatives to national discourses. I will explain why the editor accused of erroneously making readers consume error strewn news “heds” might actually be a genius.

A well thought-out headline is a huge pointer to good sales. In the 1990s when I sold a popular tabloid as a side business, the numbers we ordered where dictated by juicy headlines. Apart from the headline, the next important part we looked at was the “lede”. All newspaper vendors are always on the lookout for attention grabbing headlines and ledes. The lede to them is a matter of life and death for their next meal. With a bad lede, readers have been known to abandon an entire paper.

Just for clarity, a ‘lede’ refers to the introductory part of a news story that is intended to push a reader to savor the entire story. It is a “newsie” slang for the first sentence of a story, which is meant to immediately grab the reader’s attention. If a lede eclipses a headline, it is bad news for that newspaper on that particular day. Good editors allow what is called ‘headline eclipsing’ ledes.

In any good newspaper headline, you should be on the lookout for ambiguity; the quality of being open to more than one interpretation or inexactness. Why should an editor give you a straightforward headline? The idea for the editor of any newspaper is to confuse readers so as to allow them to read on. Attention grabbing trends are sustained by headlines with double or multiple meanings, as perfected by the national paper we are discussing.

Although headlines should be clear, a clever editor would rather use punchy and catchy “leaking condoms” than boring “faulty condoms”. Because of its latex nature, it is easier for readers to conceptualize a leaking rubber than a faulty rubber. While we know that bees sting, excitement rings high if bees are in the same headline with bite for rhythmical reasons. For instance, ‘Bata Bullets bite opponents’ is way better than ‘Bata Bullets shoot opponents’. Who doesn’t know that bullets can’t bite?

In conclusion, like “kopala” lingua franca, newspaper headline is a big business that can’t be corrected nor regulated by grammar enthusiasts. If anything, the meaning of words, especially in headlines has a direct correlation with whether listeners decode and understand them in their context. Some say if a reader interprets the meaning correctly, let it be so!

Lookout for IDEATIONS…GoddyChitty @Large article every Monday on Kalemba

Author: Godfrey Chitalu is a social commentator who writes for pleasure

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