Tuesday, January 25

The Tuesday Twaddlefest and Other Headlines

Awful headline of the week, from magazine Bank Insurance & Securities Marketing: "Selling Insurance: Let Us Count The Ways"

It's not even bad in an interesting way. Bad Shakespeare quotes are the first resort of every amateur. If you want to go the literary allusion route, you have to be obscure. I gave myself a little giggle this week by using one myself: 'Reputation Reputation, Reputation': AML in the UK. Remember? Cassio's lament to Iago, Othello, Act 2, Scene 3?

Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!

There's a bit of a Sex Pistols reference in the second clause as well. And irony: Cassio is an idiot in that play.

The one I'm proud of, though, was "EU Pluribus Unum"--a story on European regulatory harmonization. Get it? Huh?

Seriously, though, except possibly for that AML headline--stands for anti-money laundering, story dealt with reputational risk--I take headlines seriously, even if I try to introduce a little rhetorical zing. I'm not just trying to be clever for clever's sake. I'm trying to mess with the reader's head, make him look twice, get the mental juices flowing.

My preferred genre is the hed-dek duo, for that reason: The improbable statement followed by the explanation. It's the same rhetorical strategy as the shaggy dog story. It's also easier. The hard ones to write are often the boring ones without a deck that have to convey as much information as possible in tight quarters. That's where you break out your Scrabble dictionary and trot out all the handy journalistic words like 'mull' and--I used this the other day--'slap' for any form of punishment or admonishment.

Of course, you don't always have room for a deck, and a reporter of mine objected, quite rightly, last week that having nothing but a short, cryptic head on his story wasn't right: It was breaking news and needed to shout that fact up front. So we added a design element to hold a dek that featured the new information inside. Hooray for flexible art directors.

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