Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's Called Full Disclosure ...

Or maybe that's not called for when everyone knows that one company owns a television station and a newspaper.

Still, I'm completely skeeved out by the Cover Story I just saw on WGN's 9 O'Clock News about what it takes to write a clever headline.

WGN, of course, is owned by Tribune, which also owns the Chicago Tribune. And I don't have to tell you that the only newspaper featured in the segment was the Trib.


What I just saw wasn't news. It wasn't a feature. It was one business unit patting another business unit on the back.

I used to work at the Trib. I wrote some great headlines. I love writing headlines. It really is an art. Being informative or clever in very few words is hard.

I was an inaugural member of a copy-editing class and one of our tasks was to write a kicker caption for a photo. A kicker is a phrase that introduces a caption. In class, we were given a photo of a bride and groom standing alongside their limo, hood up, steam pouring out from the engine. We were given a few minutes to write our kickers, then we went around the room, sharing what we'd written.

My kicker was: "The Lack of Luxury." You know, like "The lap of luxury," but not.

Clever captions are plays on words. My classsmates were suitably impressed. I was pleased.

So I don't disagree with the idea of a story about writing headlines. But I'm completely skeeved out that the producers of the segment only talked to Trib personnel. Any story worth its salt necessitates various points of view. You can't write a story about, oh, the health benefits of cheese, and only talk to a cheesemaker who's solely interested in selling more cheese. For balance, you have to talk to a nutritionist or someone who might have another take on the health benefits of cheese.

Granted, talking to editors at the Sun-Times or the Daily Herald or any other regional paper wouldn't have yielded a different take on writing headlines. Writing headlines is a one-note story.

But including other publications would have made it more of a news story, and less of an infomercial about Tribune.

I wonder if Nancy and Jane and some of the other editors in the piece knew that it was going to focus solely on the Trib. I wonder if they would have agreed to be interviewed otherwise. I wonder if they were simply told to comply.

When I worked at the Trib and helped produce the TV book every week, we were told by the powers on high one week that our cover would feature the Festival of Lights Parade. Not because it was the most worthy television moment of the week and therefore deserved to be featured. No, we were told to feature it because it was a Tribune event.

Karen, my editor, bristled, and rightfully so. Objectivity is the hook on which newspapers hang their hats. If that's called into question, the public has no reason to trust what's committed to newsprint. Newspapers exist to serve the public, not corporate interests.

At least, that's how it used to be.

But when one company owns a newspaper and a television station - or in the case of Tribune, for now, anyway, many newspapers and many television stations - and they cover each other, it's called "synergy."

I think I need a shower.


Blogger Dave said...

If the story did not mention that the Tribune and WGN are owned by the same company, then it is extremely gross. And, yeah, I know that everybody in Chicago, and most people beyond, know that Tribune Company owns both newspaper and TV station, but it's still something that needed to be mentioned in the story if for no other reason than to cover their asses. And even if they wanted to pretend that the Sun-Times or Daily Herald or the Defender or the Reader didn't exist, why not go to the college students at Medill or the high school students who write for the student newspaper at New Trier or otherwise? It would have been interesting to see how the skill for writing headlines evolves among the budding journalists of the world.

Having said that, I'm not surprised that the Tribune took this tact. They do like to pretend that they're the only show in town.

Verification word: pyiffs (the sound a drunk porcupine makes when it farts)

11:49 PM  

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