We should write headlines, not be in headlines
Willis Webb

Something is wrong when the media IS the headline rather than WRITING the headline.

That has been the case recently when the Rupert Murdoch-owned British newspaper News of the World, in London, made the headlines then was summarily closed by the Australian media mogul.

Brief ly, some News staffers admitted to not only hacking into phone voice mails for elected officials in England but of private citizens as well and to having threatened police.

First of all, there seems to be more of a propensity for sensationalism in the news in both England and Australia, the two strongholds of Murdoch publications and broadcast networks, than there is in America. Your big media centers — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C. — have a somewhat smaller amount of screaming headlines than do the British and the Aussies.

Community newspapers, such as the one you’re reading, rarely have a story that can be sensationalized (thankfully) and it’s doubtful this paper or any other like it would sensationalize it. Oh, sure there are large headlines for any story that has a major impact on a community but not the kind of headlines you see in these sensation-seeking papers. And, the stories under screaming headlines in the sensationalized markets read just as “breathtakingly” as the banners that cry for you to read the story and that issue of the newspaper. Think “Hollywood scandal sheet” and you get the idea a little better about what all this “sensational business” is about.

First of all, British and Australian papers rely on street sales much more than do American newspapers. Community papers are inclined to publish mostly once a week although there are some twice- and thrice-weekly papers and some small dailies that fill the community bill. Even for those small dailies, street and news rack sales are a drop in the bucket even compared to America’s larger dailies.

Small town papers like it that way.

Although, one shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking the local community newspaper will ignore a big story. It will probably merit a banner headline but don’t look for SCANDAL! to appear in threeinch high letters.

More often than not, a community newspaper banner headline will be about something good happening in their town. Gossip is relegated to coffee shops, tea rooms and back fences. Yes, there’s no denying that we Americans love our gossip.

But not in our community newspaper. Apparently there are stronger libel and slander laws in America than in England, Australia and much of Europe.

Only once in six decades in the newspaper business have I been privy to a “wire tap.” That came in the early 1960s in a county adjacent to Harris County (Houston). This bit of eaves-dropping was done by the police. They were listening to the phone of a prostitute, heavily involved in drug trafficking. These men in blue were really anxious about making a raid on the drug ring because the gang boss was a former police chiefmayor of this town. They wanted to put him away.

Finally, word came down that a shipment was being received from Mexico and would be broken up and taken by several runners into Houston for dispersement to dealers there.

I did a nervous trail-behindtag along with the police raiders who went barreling in as the bales of marijuana were being broken up into smaller packages for “mules” to haul into a waiting Houston market.

The big boss left less than five minutes before the raiders hit. However, law enforcement arrested all the mules and runners and, at least temporarily, put the drug dealers out of business.

Two days later, the prostitute, whose phone the deputies tapped, wrapped a sheet around herself and her baby and walked off into a river and drowned, victims of a soon-burgeoning drug business in Houston and Texas.

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2011-08-04 digital edition

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