I'm struck this morning by the headline of a CNN International story about two British divers who got caught in a current while diving on the Great Barrier Reef and ended up 10 Km away from their dive boat having drifted for six hours in the water. Understandably they were very happy to be rescued.
The headline is: Lost amid the sharks for six hours
But on reading it, it turns out there was, in all that time, only one shark. Only one of the divers saw it. And it circled briefly below them before continuing on its way.
"I think it was a white-tipped reef shark," she said, referring to a species of shark not known to attack humans. "But not too big."
So, hardly the scene of two defenceless meals floating in the middle of the ocean surrounded by fins... as conjured up in the headline.
No doubt the sub-editor who dreamed up the title (could have been CNN or Associated Press) was focused on the similarity with the film 'Open Water' based on the real life disappearence of two divers left behind on the Great Barrier Reef, but distortions like that only make the public more & more suspicious about anything they see in the press.
Yesterday I was looking at the website for a tour operator: The Gambia Experience. It has a page of recent travel articles published about The Gambia. Interesting, but disappointing, to see how many sub-editors came up with variations of the same cliche for a title... 'Gamble on the Gambia','It's not a gamble going to Gambia', etc!
Most journalists know that feeling you get when you've produced a sophisticated piece of writing - to spec and to deadline - only to see it published with the most crass headline.... which, since it is immediately followed with your byline, every reader assumes was written by you - not some brain-dead sub editor fresh out of work-experience and desperate to finish work and get down the pub!
Coming up with a good headline is not always as easy as people might think... but mostly it is.