Headline Headaches, “Old Fashioned” Journalism Spotlighted in Tuscaloosa News Mishap

Letter to the Editor sets the record straight on a home of journalism at University of Alabama.

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An incorrect headline about the place where I work and a letter to the editor in today’s Tuscaloosa News raised some interesting points about journalism in the digital age where we post things online and often focus our training on preparing students mostly for content delivery in that online area.

Last week, The Tuscaloosa News included a “staff report” on the new dean of the University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences.

The story appears to have been rewritten from a news release published the day before on the University’s web site.

Problem is- the story that appeared in the newspaper incorrectly stated in the headline that Nelson was the new “dean of journalism.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only factual error in the way the story was presented.   But, we’ll save those criticisms for another day.

Here's how the story appeared in the June 12th edition of The Tuscaloosa News.
Here’s how the story appeared in the June 12th edition of The Tuscaloosa News.

Headline Dilemma

Most of us who teach journalism suspected the challenge was in the headline writing.

Anyone with experience working in producing newspaper designs knows the most difficult headlines to write are those that must fit over one column of news copy.  The small space does not lend itself to long names like “communication and information sciences.”

Those of us on the UA campus, usually just say “C&IS”   But, that is not a recognizable acronym to the general public.

Even the word “communication” is too long to fit over that column.

So what’s a responsible newspaper designer to do?

Aversa-copy
Aversa

The former director of UA’s School of Library and Information Studies (and a personal friend and colleague) Elizabeth Aversa attempted to set the record straight with a letter to the editor published today.

But, the web version of her letter appears to have been edited down. So one has to see the version in the “print edition” to get the full effect of her critique.  The opening sentences of Aversa’s letter are very telling.

“Although thrilled to hear of the appointment of a dean for the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama, I am writing to correct the impression left by the headline “UA names Mark Nelson as new dean of journalism.” The College that Dr. Nelson will lead is very much more than an old-fashioned “journalism school.”

Aversa is correct that the College consists of five academic units, with the Department of Journalism being the oldest of the units.

But, the irony in her calling a journalism school “old-fashioned” is that those basic print production  skills like writing headlines for newspapers that we have traditionally taught in a copyediting or editing class are claiming less and less attention in our class.

In fact, this fall, our editing classes will be spending a lot of time editing web content in our brand new Digital Media Center.

That leaves one to question– won’t that mean less time and practice in writing one-column headlines?

The answer is probably “YES.”    There are many in our profession who believe newspapers are dying and don’t have much of a place in the “future of journalism.”

So,  it behooves journalism educators to devote more time to instructing students on digital skills that are directed at web-based, mobile platforms as the places where more and more folks are getting their news.

Still, one has to wonder does that mean we will have more editing snafus like we saw last week at The Tuscaloosa News?

REWRITING THE HEADLINE

So, how would I have rewritten that headline?

Well, given that “communication” is too long, I would have focused on the fact that Nelson is Vice President of Student Affairs.  It’s actually somewhat unusual for a vice president to leave that higher central administrative post and take a leadership role in a single unit.

“Nelson to
trade V.P.
title for
dean’s post’

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

1 thought on “Headline Headaches, “Old Fashioned” Journalism Spotlighted in Tuscaloosa News Mishap”

  1. To correct the correction, I never meant to leave the impression that the journalism program at UA is “old fashioned,” rather that the Tuscaloosa News article suggested an “old school” model that is not what we have at UA. George and I are surely on the same page here – inclusive rather than limiting is the name of the game!

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