Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Headlines on the War Can Hit a Sour Note with Readers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Headlines on the War Can Hit a Sour Note with Readers

Article excerpt

Byline: Mike Clark, Times-Union Reader Advocate

Readers are a bit on edge these days.

It's understandable when the United States embarks on a war that, despite strong support at home, it is marked by anti-war demonstrations.

Journalists are under stress, as well. The newspapers are big, the stakes are high. Through it all, the goal of the Times-Union is to be "accurate, informative and tasteful," said Managing Editor Michael Richey.

A newspaper makes its first impression with the headlines on the front page. A few readers took issue with two recent examples.

For instance, the Saturday, March 22 headline proclaimed, "Baghdad burns." J.R. Johnson said that was not true. Most of Baghdad was not burning. "It was like saying that Springfield is burning if a house catches on fire in that neighborhood, or that Jacksonville is under water when McCoy's Creek overflows," he said.

My comment: Though some of the photos gave that impression, the Times-Union has reported that U.S. bombers are not aiming at civilian targets like power plants or hospitals.

On Monday, the main headline was "Bloody setbacks." Several readers thought that implied a retreat, which did not happen.

Gerhardt Thamm responded: "This was undoubtedly written by someone who had never seen war. The headline should have read, 'Light casualties, our forces advance.' Actually, I am surprised how small our casualties are."

Donald Beattie offered a few substitutes: "The correct headline in my judgment would have been 'Resistance stiffens' or 'Troops ambushed' or 'Advance slows' or if you are into bloody, 'Casualties rise' or if you are into alliteration, "Casualties climb.'"

Richey responded: "Both of the headlines we used are accurate, as are some of the headlines our readers suggested. Our headlines reflected the tone of the stories and photos we chose to run from our wire service options and, especially in the case of Monday's headline, conveyed what correspondents in Iraq determined as the most significant news of the day. …

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