We've received a lot of negative feedback about our front-page headline in Thursday's issue, "Burn, Baby, Burn," and we deserve every bit of the criticism that's come our way about this. The phrase headlined our cover story about the gas-line explosion that riveted local news followers all day on Wednesday.
In the opening to this apology, I used the plural pronouns, "we" and "our," but it's more precise to use the singular, "I," since I'm the one who wrote the unfortunate headline (and who ultimately would be responsible if someone else here had written it).
I don't want to provide excuses for what, for me, is the "worst headline ever." But I do want to explain why the headline wasn't malicious but rather resulted from carelessness.
In writing the headline – at the end of a difficult day of managing both our online coverage of the gas-line explosion near the Athens-Morgan county line and producing our print edition on deadline – I violated the first rule of headline-writing: Always consider how readers might interpret the headline, and never forget how the people most affected by the story will perceive it.
If I had done that, I would have realized that my too-clever attempt to draw a connection with "Drill, Baby, Drill," the Sarah Palin/Republican position on oil and gas development, wouldn't be apparent to the vast majority of readers. And I would have realized that what I intended as a reference to the pipeline and natural gas burning out of control in the cover photo ("Burn, Baby, Burn") obviously would be interpreted as referring to the house that also was destroyed, leaving a local family homeless.
In hindsight, the error is as clear as a bell, and the fundamental problem with the headline should have been just as clear when I wrote it.
It's all the more embarrassing since as a young man, I lost my own home to a fire, and would never intentionally make light of something like this. The fact that I did it out of carelessness, rather than ill intent, only slightly mitigates the offense.
Anyway, I apologize to anyone hurt or offended by this lapse in judgment, including the family who lost their home.