24 January 2006

Shoddy headlining

BerlinBear avatar Note: I dislike the terms "mainstream media" and "MSM" and the way they are bandied about on blogs as if they were swear-words, but I'm going to have to use MSM in this post. Just this once. Apologies in advance.

One of the things that bugs me about the MSM is shoddy headlining. I've lost count of the number of times I've read articles whose actual journalistic content bears little or no resemblance to the headline above the story. What particularly bugs me is when headlines make factual errors or give misleading information which the articles themselves do not. That bugs me for two reasons: 1) because good, accurate work by the journalist is being undermined by a headliner who cannot do his or her job properly; and 2) because I know that in many cases the headline is all that people read, so they never get to the actual facts, but just internalise the pithy, distilled, nonsense version.

So it is in this week's Guardian Weekly, when it comes to reporting on the inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia. The headline of this article, which was originally published in the Guardian on 17th January and is reproduced in the Guardian Weekly, reads:
Africa's first elected woman leader pledges to end cycle of violence
Sadly for the Guardian, that is bollocks. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Africa's first elected woman President. She is also Africa's first elected woman head of state. But she
is not Africa's first elected woman leader.

In fact,
Africa currently has two other elected leaders who are women: Maria do Carmo Silveira, Prime Minister of Sao Tome e Principe, and Lusia Diogo, Prime Minister of Mozambique. Both are women, both head a democratically elected cabinet, both are African. Neither is head of state, as both Sao Tome and Mozambique are republics whose head of state is a President (both men), but both are indisputably political leaders of their countries.

The article itself actually gets it right, though no mention is made of Silveira or Diogo:
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in yesterday as Liberia's new president, making history as Africa's first elected female head of state and pledging a "fundamental break" with the west African nation's violent past.
In other words:
Journalist Hans Nichols: tick, A+
Anonymous headliner: cross, F (Find another job, or do your current job properly).

Any clown can find this information with a simple Google search. There is no excuse for factual inaccuracies from people who do this for a living. It just isn't that hard.

/media rant