By Bob Starrett
And you thought you were reading the Weekly World News. They can’t cover this because they are hot on the trail of the biggest story of the year, “FACEBOOK WILL END ON MARCH 15th, 2012!” You can read that gem for yourself..
Personally, I wouldn’t miss Facebook, but the story I really wanted to read was “How to Sell Your Soul to the Devil.” I have always wondered how one goes about that. Onionesque as it is, when Weekly World News reports it, at least the rest of the story matches the headline. As far as the facts to back it up, sure, they might be more than a little questionable, but at least they make an effort.
”Facebook has gotten out of control,” said Mark Zuckerberg in a press conference outside his Palo Alto office at least according to Weekly World News, “and the stress of managing this company has ruined my life. I need to put an end to all the madness.”
Not so for the Denver Post. On Tuesday the Post reported, under the headline “Colorado post offices see increase in marijuana packages,” that nationwide, postal inspectors seized 31,000 pounds of illegal drugs during the fiscal year ending in June. We assume June 2011. They report that the previous year saw 38,000 pounds seized.
The basis for this story is, well… I don’t know what it is.
Here is where we have a bit of incongruity between the headline and the body of the story. If we have anecdotal evidence that “Colorado post offices see increase in marijuana packages,” and factual evidence that in FY 2011 the postal inspectors seized 7000 pounds less in illegal drugs than in FY 2010, then it seems to me that drug seizures are down, not up.
Note that the story talks about “drugs”, not marijuana specifically, so we don’t have much to guide us.
So, as far as this increase in marijuana packages, we are left sort of… factless.
The article quotes Craig Goldberg, the acting assistant inspector in charge of the Postal Service’s Denver office, “We have no desire for the Postal Service to be used to facilitate drug trafficking. We want to help get drugs out of the mail for the safety of our employees.”
The fear is that letter carriers would become targets for lurking robbers who are apparently endowed with extra sensory perception in that they can figure out which packages contain weed. If this were so easy, the problem wouldn’t exist.
I don’t know how these roving gangs of marijuana pirates can so easily spot a marijuana-laden package. This sort of misses the mark for me, since these packages are no doubt given the most careful attention by their senders to make them as inconspicuous as possible.
There are different schools of thought on writing headlines. One is to write the headline first and make sure that the story backs it up. Another is to write the headline after the story is completed. But that requires reading the story and in the fast paced environment of today’s reporting that does not always happen.
You can’t always blame the reporter for the headline. Sometimes headlines are written by somebody else. Someone who didn’t read the story.
I understand that a headline needs to be catchy. You have to grab the reader and an often stated rule of headlines is “Your headline is a promise to readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit you’ll deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time.”
And you don’t want a boring headline, lest you become the winner of the most boring headline contest, of which there are several. Years ago, New Republic editor Michael Kinsley started a boring headline contest, hoping to top this: “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” by Flora Lewis who wrote for The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Nobody ever topped it, although many have tried.
And this from John Leo at the Jewish World Review: “Boring heads draw comment, too. Recently I saw a head in the Economist: “Special Report: Zambian Copper.” This was entirely too special for me, so I skipped it.”
I did finally get to that other article; you remember, the one about selling your soul to the devil. It is quite good as far as laying out the negotiating points with Beelzebub. But it fails in the end because it, too, does not live up to the promise of the headline.
I have put my negotiating points together and am ready to work with Satan, but the article never tells me exactly how to contact the dude. I have wasted my valuable time.
I guess neither the Denver Post (“Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire”) nor the Weekly World News (“The World’s Only Reliable News”) will satisfy me today.
Editor’s note: Bob Starrett, with 22 years of experience with Optical Disc and Drive technology, is co-author of six books on CD and CD-ROM technology, and his published magazine work includes more than 250 articles, reviews and columns on CD-ROM, CD Recordable, DVD-ROM and DVD Recordable technology for publications including PC Magazine, EMedia Magazine, CD-ROM Professional, Digital Video Magazine, Digital Content Creator, One To One, Online, Tape-Disc Business and others. He holds a J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law.