Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Trying too hard

The art of writing a headline is to encapsulate the central element and tone of the article in a way that a reader can take in at a glance.

It took more than a glance for me to decipher this headline on the front page of this morning’s Baltimore Sun:

Flags down
over Block
award to
Eagles’ Vick

This is one of those headlines that make sense only after you read the story: That the annual Ed Block Courage Award is being given to Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles — the man who ran a dog-fighting operation — has caused local outrage.

There are two ways in which this headline tries too hard and defeats its own purposes. The first is to jam all those proper nouns, Block, Eagles, Vick. Michael Vick is notorious enough locally that Eagles could have been sacrificed. The second mistake was to try to be clever while jamming all that information in with wordplay on flag down on play. You know, football.

The result is a headline that has too much — information — and too little — context for the wordplay. It is only in the secondary headline, Animal advocates outraged / over teammates’ choice, that the penny drops.

Simplify, simplify.