Friday, 10 June 2011

when cucumbers kill and other headline titles.

When writing a piece in any kind of newspaper, the author must surely put great effort into the choosing of the title, in order to gain the maximum impact and exposure. But do they really consider the message their headlines put across?

This week we have been reading all about

killer cucumbers

in reference to the E-Coli outbreak in Germany.

The outbreak is serious, over 30 people have died and over 2000 people have been taken ill.

but instead of imagining the outcomes for these people, and the devastating consequences for many families, the sight of the "killer cucumber" headline has a certain Alfred Hitchcock ring to it.

So when these headlines are thought up, who does the thinking, and what is their motivation?

No doubt the reference to "killer cucumbers" is designed to instill fear into the population. There is a nasty disease out there, it kills people and makes others seriously ill. But instead of the fear of E-Coli, should one instead be afraid of the cucumbers? The cucumbers that, if only the headline is read in isolation, go round killing people?

It should be said at this point that the blame for the bug has now been pinpointed down to

sprouts

and so it is hoped that our experiences of killer vegetables will soon be at an end.

But that won't be an end to the headlines that cause us to take a second look, and to perhaps not look at a news story in the exact light that we should.

A headline does of course need to grab attention - with rolling 24 hour news both online and in our broadcast media, being able to write the headline that is designed to grab the attention of the viewers/readers and be able to keep that story in the news is key.

But there surely has to be middle ground between keeping a story in the news by virtue of the headline attached to it, and changing the appearance of that story by sensationalising the headline to an extent that it is the headline and not the story that grabs the attention.