Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wanted: Sub-editors. Ability to read optional.

This is the headline on a page A3 article, and it's pretty grim. Despite police crackdowns, tougher penalties and gruesome advertising campaigns, the number of drink-drivers continues to rise, and by ten per cent! Quick, let's read the article and find out the full story:

Police increased the number of roadside breath tests by almost 80 per cent last year, catching 10 per cent more drink-drivers than in 2007.

Figures issued by Transport Minister Steven Joyce yesterday, based on police data, show that 2.91 million breath tests were taken last year and that 34,272 drivers faced excess alcohol charges.

That was an increase of 78.8 per cent on the 1.63 million breath tests police took in 2007, from which 30,968 charges were laid.

But despite the modest increase in offences compared with the extra enforcement effort, the police say it was a measure of success that they charged only one in every 85 drivers tested last year, compared with one in 53 in 2007.

Despite the rather confused sentence at the start of that last paragraph, the article itself is pretty much on the ball: drink-driving rates are responding to increased enforcement and education. So why the headline that massively misrepresents the article? Was the person who wrote it:
  • a) too lazy to read the article?
  • b) too overworked or generally befuddled to understand it?
  • c) cynical enough to think that rising rates make for a sexier headline?
I'm going to vote for c), and I hereby submit two pieces of evidence to back this up. First, the headline on the website is different, if little better: "More testing, more arrests". Secondly, and more tellingly, there is a secondary headline in the print edition:

What a giveaway; you can read after all! Sneaky bugger.

1 comment:

  1. so what's your point? that all complex ideas must be communicated in one headline, and that the age-old technique of sub-head explanation is now a 'bad thing'?