In these times of political spin, contradictions, obfuscation and, at times, outright lies, readers expect to see not only the articles, but also the headlines, reflect the truth as best they can.
A British Columbia reader wrote to me this week calling on The Globe to pay closer attention to the big type. This was on a story about BC Premier Christy Clark who accused the New Democrats of hacking her party's website.
The digital headline says "Christy Clark accuses NDP of hacking Liberal party website, without proof"
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That was a good headline, but reader Steve Dodge said the newspaper headline was not. "The paper on my breakfast table has the headline, 'Clark accuses NDP of hacking attempt,' and while I see that this has changed in the online edition to include the phrase 'without proof' at the end, I still believe this is not good enough. Ms. Clark has made an inflammatory, irresponsible accusation, and the Globe and Mail has played into her hands by trumpeting her unsubstantiated claim in the headline, leaving the fact that she has no evidence to a subheading and the first sentence of the story. Certainly the Globe and Mail can do better, and should."
Below that big type of "Clark accuses NDP of hacking attempt," the smaller type subhead said "The Premier suggests the Official Opposition party infiltrated the BC Liberal website, but lacks concrete proof."
The first paragraph starts with this: "British Columbia Premier Christy Clark is alleging, without providing evidence, that the opposition New Democrats hacked her party's website …"
So both the digital headline and the lead of the article get to a very important point very quickly: that this is an allegation without proof.
The main paper headline was correct and the smaller deck ends with "lacks concrete proof," but in my view, it did not show the balance needed on such a controversial political story.
Headlines are very tricky to write. And unlike digital where a headline can be longer, in print space is not only tight but the words have to fit the column width. Think how hard it is to write a single column headline on a complex issue. But in this case, I think Mr. Dodge is right that the allegation needed to be balanced in the big-type main headline. Perhaps this would have been better: "No proof in Clark's charge of NDP hack" or a bit longer (and therefore would require a smaller font) "Clark says, without proof, NDP hacked site."
The readers are right that the same critical eye that is applied to the articles needs to be applied in that big eye catching headline as well.