The Oregonian's right-wing headline writer strikes again

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

The Oregonian's right-wing headline writer strikes again

For years, I've believed that the Oregonian has a copy editor on staff who has conservative political views - and isn't afraid to write headlines that don't match the stories they top. (For the uninitiated: reporters write the stories, copy editors write the headlines.)

Back in 2006, for example, there was that famous headline - Smith stands for beliefs on middle ground - when the story itself made clear that he votes with his party's leadership 80% of the time.

And of course, earlier this month, when the Oregonian went with a big dejected sigh, "OBAMA KEEPS JOB". Despite their well-documented financial troubles, they couldn't even be bothered to try to sell souvenir copies to all the excited Obama fans in Portland.

Well, the right-wing headline writer has struck again. This time, it's "Merkley intent on raising revenue". I've snapped a photo of the headline, because if you're an online-only reader, then you saw an entirely different headline:

"Merkley avoids 'lines in the sand' on fiscal cliff talks, says he'll rely on principles"

What's so bizarre here is that the story, by the O's Charlie Pope, is quite good - and very balanced. Contrary to the print headline, the story quotes Merkley as saying that he's "not going to draw lines in the sand on individual pieces". It says he's "keeping an open mind".

Now, to be sure, like just about all Democrats, Merkley wants to see "a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases", but the print headline suggests that Merkley is all about the latter, and not the former. Nor does it make clear, as the story does, that he's for tax increases for the wealthy and for oil companies. And it completely ignores Merkley's insistence that we protect safety net programs.

Now, headline writers also write the photo captions. In the print edition, the photo caption is...

High earners need to pay fair share

...which is a fair summary of Merkley's position on taxes for the wealthy, but it's incomplete. Much closer is the (admittedly longer and a smidge confusing) photo caption online:

Merkley says any agreement on the fiscal [cliff] must close the gap between the amount of money raised by taxes and spending. Those numbers should balance, he says. Spending currently outpaces tax revenue by 8 percent.

Now, I spent a little time as a copy editor back at my college daily - and I got known for writing pithy headlines. And as every BlueOregon blogger will tell you, the one thing I'll regularly edit around here are the headlines.

So, it'd be fair to ask, what headline would I have on the story? What would be a true summary of the story, factual, pithy, and inside the 30-35 characters of space on that page? Here's a few options:

Merkley: Restore fairness to budget

Merkley: Balance cuts & tax hikes

Merkley "glide path" on fiscal cliff

If you were writing the headline, what would you have written?

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    Full disclosure: My firm built Jeff Merkley's campaign website. I speak only for myself.

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    This seems to be a long standing typical ploy of the Bend Bulletin and is now beginning with the Oregonian.

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    The question about editorial policy is relevant. A recent post by Nels Johnson on BO could have as easily been written by the Oregonian. And yet the editor of this site made no comment or introduction of Mr. Johnson. The point that I am making is that Kari has made an effort to try to support KPOJ. Any person who has listened to that station knows that the fiscal cliff is a sham. Trickle down is a fraud. Thomm Hartman has eloguently referenced the Greenspan fraud. So, my question is how can BO question the editroial policy of the Oregonian when its own policy is so lame?

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      Marvin, if you disagree with Nels's post, you should post a comment on that post.

      As for introducing him, that introduction was made on the occasion of his first post here, back in August.

      And his bio is here.

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        Thank you for making my point, Kari. The context of the piece which examines Oregonian editorial policy establishes the relevance of my point which is to say that the post referred to could have easily been written by the Oregonian. You did not respond to my point. Which is to say thank you for underlining my evaluation of the editorial policy which was in question.

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          Kari is not "the editor" of BlueOregon ins the sense that The Oregonian is edited. BlueOregon doesn't have an editorial policy in the sense you mean. BlueOregon also is not a newspaper.

          It is news to me that Kari edits headlines since I don't think he's ever edited mine. By contrast, in any newspapers headline writing is a distinct editorial function in which story journalists have no say.

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          I'm not sure I understand the circular logic here, but I'll try and respond.

          1. BlueOregon is a blog. It is not a newspaper. If you need a dead-tree analogue, consider it the equivalent of the opinion page. Biased opinions are expected.

          2. BlueOregon is all volunteer. As such, the topics covered are whatever individual people want to cover. We regularly miss HUGE stories, despite our best efforts. (And sometimes we really regret that. Example: Our very late-to-the-game approach to Clackamas County and the Tea Party.)

          3. You complained that I didn't "introduce" Nels Johnson. As I noted above, I did exactly that, in fact.

          4. The awesome thing about this blog is that you can have your say too. Don't like an argument someone has made? Post a comment. Got even more to say? Send in a guest column. If it's local, well-written, and political, I'll almost always post it.

          5. We select our contributors based on their interest in writing stuff about Oregon politics and policy, and their ability to write. But once they become regular contributors, they're free to write whatever they want. Even whiny rants about TV coverage of college football and wildly misguided nonsense about fluoride.

          But hey, those are just the opinions of one guy who writes here. I'm an "editor" primarily in the sense that I write more than most and I've appointed myself to poke our other contributors with a sharp stick once in a while. And I'm the "publisher" only in the sense that I've taken on the technical challenge of keeping the lights on. Otherwise, this blog belongs to the many diverse voices that post here, including yours.

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    Just a point of clarification. We reporters at The O typically do write the headlines that appear online. Copy editors write headlines that appear in print.

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      Thanks, Harry, for dropping by and engaging in the conversation.

      I had suspected as much. Perhaps it's time to end the historical anachronism of copy editors writing headlines. After all, they're people skilled in proof reading for style, grammar, and spelling - while it's the journalists who are familiar with their reporting and the thrust they're aiming for.

      In the modern era, there are lots of headline needs - online and print. Many online venues now require writers to write multiple size headlines: one for on-the-page, one for home-page treatment, one for section page treatment, etc.

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    Another example, to Kari's original point (and to Harry Esteve's). Harry wrote a solid article about the success of marriage equality at the ballot this year and what it means for Oregon in 2014. His online headline was spot-on: "Oregon may vote on same-sex marriage in 2014, activists say." The print edition, not so much: "As other states back gay marriage, Oregon advocates bide their time." The print headline implies Basic Rights Oregon is sitting on their hands and should have moved forward faster - despite the fact that the O editorialized in favor of Basic Rights' decision not to go to the ballot in 2012. Plus the usage of "gay marriage" is not great, and wasn't used in the article.

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      One further point. Online headlines need to account for search engine optimization, whereas print headline don't. In defense of the copy editors at The O, I thought the headline on my story was just fine, as are the vast majority of the ones they write.

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        True, true. (Which is the reason that I occasionally rewrite headlines here.)

        But the fact that the authors of stories are now writing headlines at all is a demonstration of how silly it is that someone else is writing for print.

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    Should we also clarify that the Oregonian is a newspaper, a journalistic publication-and that Blue Oregon is a blog, written by private citizens not getting paid to do so?

    Blogs like Blue Oregon, although treated this way sometimes, do not claim to be "your source for news and information" and unless we are actually going to shift the paradigm I still do not understand why we continue to insist on an apples to apples comparison. Yes, blogs are influential-and often the first place some folks will read of certain happenings (I know I do-and then link to the original source for the full picture)-but that is because people choose to imbue them with that importance and use them for sources of information, not because they claim to be those things.

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