Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Are Some Journalists Taking the Easy Way Out?

When I was in journalism school, I was always taught that question mark headlines – and question mark lead sentences, for that matter – were a no-no. They weren’t expressly forbidden, but they were seen as a last resort of weak writing.

You’d never know that to look at the news today, though. It seems like every news Web site and news network out there is asking questions. Is the economic crisis over? Is the economic crisis just beginning? Are land sharks a danger to you and your family? We’ll have the answer to that question coming up at 11.

ABC News seems to be one of the worst offenders in this category. Look at the headlines from their Web site from Friday, Oct. 10. Early in the morning, the headline read: “Black Friday?” And pondered just how low the stock markets were going to go.

A short time later, the headline was changed to something slightly less apocalyptic: “Gray Friday? World Markets Tank, Dow Flails from High to Low.”

Apparently someone at ABC News decided to adopt the federal government’s color-coded terror watch system and use it for news coverage.

The market threat today has been upgraded from black to gray. I suppose if it recovers, it will go to charcoal gray, then slate gray, followed by light gray. Who knows? If it’s a really good day, it could go as high as off-white.

But I digress. The problem I have with question headlines is that they are a cheap way to draw in readers or viewers or listeners. “Is grass really green?” Well, of course we all know it is, but we might tune in anyway just in case the folks on the news crew know something we don’t.

But think about it this way – if they know so much more than you, why do they keep asking such stupid questions?

I’ll have the answer for you at 11.