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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why my bosses on The Record copy desk frowned on headlines with plays on words

A comprehensive plan to replace the Affordable Care Act fell far short of the votes it needed in the Senate on Tuesday night. But the defeat for Majority Leader Mitch Mconnell, shown above in a cartoon from R.J. Matson of Roll Call, and President Trump isn't reflected in The Record's upbeat story on Page 1 today. 
In a second cartoon from Matson, Trump imagines himself back on TV, issuing pardons to everyone implicated in Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including himself.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Writing headlines that are accurate, catchy and informative has become a lost art at The Record of Woodland Park.

A prime example of a bad, inaccurate headline appeared on Page 1 on Monday over a story reporting that Temple Emeth in Teaneck "scrapped annual dues" this month, joining a growing list of synagogues nationwide.

The Gannett Co. headline writer, who labors in  a design studio far from New Jersey, couldn't resist writing a headline with a play on the word "dues," and that was his or her undoing, as well as a disservice to readers:

"DUE FOR A CHANGE"

The play on words is obvious, but saying something is "due" means it will happen in the near future, and the headline contradicts the sub-headline and story, both of which report the change has already occurred.

Copy desk woes

The headline is an example of why my bosses on The Record copy desk in Hackensack frowned on plays on words.

In truth, headline quality and accuracy have been declining since 2008, a year before The Record abandoned Hackensack for Woodland Park.

That's when then-Publisher Stephen A. Borg ordered a major newsroom downsizing that saw the departure of several copy editors (and headline writers), including yours truly, and the co-supervisor and conscience of the copy desk, Nancy Cherry.

Cherry enforced good writing and grammar, the style of the newspaper and catchy but accurate headlines, and she didn't like plays on words. 

Several months after Gannett Co. bought the paper in July 2016, headline writing and other aspects of production were moved from Woodland Park to a Gannett design center at the Asbury Park Press in Neptune.

In June, Gannett closed that operation with the loss of 85 jobs, and moved production of The Record to a design studio in Des Moines, Nashville or Phoenix.

See the "How to Write Headlines" blog from Aaron Elson, another former Record copy editor:


Christie vetoes

A Page 1 story on Saturday reported Governor Christie signed a bill raising the smoking age in New Jersey to 21.

The headline said Christie signed a "law," which is incorrect, but another problem is that a companion story on Saturday's Page 6A fails to report the GOP bully has set a record for vetoing bills, not signing them.

Saturday's story says Christie signed "dozens of new laws, including one that protects transgender students' privacy rights."

Only one sentence in the story mentions Christie vetoed 14 bills, adding to a total of nearly 600 vetoes since he took office in January 2010.

The Record stopped counting Christie's vetoes after they passed the 300-mark.

Rail safety

On Monday, The Record's Local news section reported NJ Transit will begin installing "long-awaited safety improvements" at the Main Street station in Ramsey in hopes of cutting injuries and deaths at the crossing.

"Since 2010, four people have been killed at the grade-level crossing, which is considered one of the most dangerous in the state," Staff Writer Tom Nobile reported.

It's refreshing to see NJ Transit acknowledging safety problems in Ramsey instead of labeling pedestrians killed by trains as "trespassers," a term The Record adopted and used in news stories for far too many years.

By the numbers

Today's Better Living section continues the feature coverage by the numbers that has become a fixture under Gannett, which has trimmed more than 350 staffers at the North Jersey Media Group division that publishes The Record.

"7 DELICIOUS ROYAL-COVERED
 DISHES IN NORTH JERSEY"

On Tuesday, Better Living readers were told to "Work It."

"The 5 summer fitness activities
 in Bergen County everyone should try"

And on Monday, Better Living endorsed:

"28 places to shop at the shore" 

APP is 'a rag'

When NJ.com reported the closing of Gannett's Neptune design studio, the website received several comments from readers of the Asbury Park Press or APP, another Gannett newspaper:

Chriss03 said:
"One cannot call the APP a newspaper. It is a collection of obits, sports news, and fill. Long long ago, Gannett gave up on issuing a newspaper. There is no Monmouth County news. No local news. No news period.
"I subscribed to the APP for 50+ years, but cancelled when they added Ann Coulter as a columnist. That was the last straw. 
"When they do fold, no doubt Gannett will blame the internet and not face up to their own incompetence."
Smok44 said:
"APP is a rag, their website is garbage, they took a once great newspaper and ran it into the ground.  The writing is on the wall. Gannett is getting what they deserve."