Seven of the 15 most read news items in EL PAÍS in the last twelve months have to do with the pandemic. Logical. Others, with the elections of the United States or Peru. Normal. On the contrary, is it logical that a text entitled ‘The most beautiful boy in the world’: Tadzio’s pain? Well yes, for being “the most …”, which in this case simply reproduces the title of a movie. Just because of that heading that has this same column (“the most …” in duplicate), you will surely accumulate more readers than usual.
An elementary objective of journalists is that their pieces are read by as many people as possible. To do this, your headlines must be attractive. The Internet is full of advice on this, but often those recommendations go beyond the ethical limits of journalism. It is already known that a heading that includes “the most”, “the best”, “the worst”, “historical”, “all”, “never” … or any other superlative concept will have more options to be clicked on the web. However, the abuse of this practice, its improper use, contravenes this principle of the Book of style: “The headlines must be unrelated to any kind of sensationalism.” Readers continually remind us.
Two weeks ago, in the daily list of the ten most read texts, information with this heading was kept for several days: Nuevo Baztán, the most unusual invention of a Navarrese visionary. The eighteenth-century town triples its visits during 2021 after Tourism chooses it as ‘the most beautiful town’ in Spain. Twice the “plus” … but it wasn’t true. Lucía Rilo Castelao wrote to the newspaper to say that there is a private association that encompasses dozens of towns considered “the most beautiful in Spain” – Nuevo Baztán has now joined – but that it does not classify them in any order. Therefore, neither “Tourism” nor “the most beautiful”. The author assumes it: the information “errs on the side of optimistic or imprecise”, but the error, he explains, was induced by an unclear statement.
The accumulation of superlative headlines overwhelms: The light will mark the most expensive Saturday in history today, Today’s price will be the second highest in history, The wildest side of life, The last plague, The lowest hours of Matteo Salvini, The most unheard of Sheriff, The most threatened neighborhood in Kabul, Martín Cuenca portrays the most primitive drives …
The use of the term “all” is also a good hook that readers criticize as unnecessary in many cases. Two of those 15 most read pieces of information included: All those of legal age may be mobilized…, “… Everyone has gotten rich, except him”. The abuse of “everything”, “all” or “total” has caused that, in a single chronicle, it has been used a dozen times. Or to force the expression “all or nothing”: “… they supported him in each community in the fight that kept everything or nothing against Susana Díaz” (on the 18th), “… the strategy of all or nothing …”, “… the all or nothing debate … “
For including expressions far from the rigor required by the Book of style —The headlines must be “unequivocal”, “concrete”, “concise” -, two readers have made us ugly that we published on the cover that the last Nobel Prize in Literature, Abdulrazak Gurnah, is “a stranger”.
Reader I. Rojo expressed surprise that a Nobel Prize, he said, will be “unknown” to whoever puts that headline, but not to many people. And María Dolores Gauna wrote five days later to celebrate that the newspaper critic Javier Rodríguez Marcos put the newspaper “in its place” in the column titled The tomb of the unknown writer, in which he pointed out: “There is no unknown writer who can win such an award. Unknown is a qualifier that says more about who pronounces it than about the person to whom it is attributed ”.
No less surprising it seemed to Ana María Gómez that a report on the hasty rescue of valuable objects in homes on La Palma by their owners was titled as follows: “Thieves in their own house” (printed edition of October 13) . Obviously, it was a metaphor, but for the reader it became a test of “low sensitivity.” And Juan Carlos Sanz Polka complains about “the trend of shocking headlines” that lead to “a magnification and exaggeration of the present.” He comments on it as a result of this heading: Volcanic eruption on La Palma: the day after the hecatomb. Hecatomb without a single fatality?
The Book of style highlights these two lapidary phrases: “Headlines are the main element of information. The quality of the headline gives the measure of the quality of the news ”. Well that.
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