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Friday, November 18,2011

Apology for the worst headline ever

By Terry Smith

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.


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The front page headlines are generally terrible. Really. I support the Athens News and frequent the website but always have a laugh at the headlines. This one was just in bad taste. Thanks for the apology, TS.




Thanks for the apology I was one of the people that posted on FB how bad it made me feel when friends had just lost everything then that was the only words you could think of. It was just in bad tast but understanding that it was for the gas co was fine thanks and Please think of evrything in a personal way befor printing.




Thank you for the apology about the terrible headline. I am not from your area but was searching the internet for your paper so I could  send you MY "negative feedback". I read your headline as I was sitting in a chair across from my daughter-in-law WHO WAS ONE OF THE WOMEN WHO MIRACULOUSLY ESCAPED DEATH in this explosion! I cannot explain the look on her face as she read it and the hurt on my son's face as yet again he was reminded of all he nearly lost and everything that DID BURN that was of huge sentimental value never to be replaced. So tired of sensationalism in all media and attempts at "clever" journalism. Just give us the news (accurately that is. more than one family lost everything! NUFF SAID! I apologize if I hurt your feelings.