Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Now Read This

Headline writers for newspapers and the larger Internet websites have the power to sell, taint, cajole, tease and distort the writer's works in order to lure the reader to take the bait. I took the bait, hook, line and sinker this morning from the following headline on MSNBC's web page:

Why Obama wishes he were king

Or at the very least, he wishes he were Mel Brooks

The article was written by Bill Pascoe, a guest columnist for CQ Politics.

I enjoyed the story. A good read. It explained and backed up with the necessary examples how President Obama must be aggravated because he lacks the power in our constitutional republic to get what he wants despite his personal popularity.

Pascoe leads the story:

Responsibility without authority is a recipe for frustration. But popularity without power is a recipe for aggravation.

I couldn't agree more with what Pascoe wrote but I kept reading on and on wondering when's this king thing and reference to a Mel Brooks skit come to play. Read the entire story and you will see what I mean.

Not till Pascoe's last graph do we come to the headline writer's idea of a grabber:

Mel Brooks said, "it's good to be the King." I'm betting Obama would give anything for a taste of that kind of power.

Om my blog and at TMV I write my own headlines and, yes, plead guilty to sometimes writing a headline of a post in which the lead message is buried in the last graph. It is not a good practice, from a professional journalistic perspective I learned years ago in the newspaper business. The general rule is if you don't grab a reader's attention by the second paragraph, you lost him.

Writing on the Internet is slightly different because you are dealing with niche audiences looking for specific issues they can rant about to either support their views or use as ammunition against opposing ideas.

I have no idea whether Pascoe was pleased with the MSNBC headline. I felt slightly betrayed, thinking it would lead me to one thing and finding something else. In the newspaper business, us writers always had an excuse about the headlines: We didn't write them.

Pascoe's analysis confirmed my impressions of the difficulties of those in power. The president is held responsible for such things he has little or no control: the economy, wars, legislation and backstage support for political candidates he personally favors.

It's now Obama's war in Afghanistan; it's Obama's health care reform plans; it's Obama's climate change legislation; it's Obama's tweaking conservatives for his circumvention of Congress with dozens of so-called czars advising him. You name it. It's Obama's.

Pascoe said that is unfair and an over-simplification. He's right.

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