Say the word I’m thinking of: Headline writing in USA Today

August 26th, 2011

Headline writing can be an onerous task. How does one draw the reader or passer-by into reading even the first line of an article while staying within the parameters of space, line decks and characters? Sub-editing is easier said than performed.

But at least get the grammar correct. Today I was walking to my departure gate at Charlotte-Douglas airport in North Carolina and saw a copy of USA Today. The headline above the page fold read: ‘Libya oil industry may fast recover.’ That’s bad. It reminded me of a friend in Ireland who used to ring and ask “do you want to go for a fast swim.” I honestly thought he meant that we would swim quite quickly and not that the activity would not take up too much of our day.

Would it have been too difficult for the sub-editing team at USA Today to write ‘. . . may make fast recovery’ or ‘. . . may recover quickly’? Additionally, would one write ‘Britain fish industry’ or ‘France wine industry’? Of course not; one would write ‘British’ or ‘French’, so why ‘Libya oil industry’ in today’s USA Today? Here we have three nouns coming together, so let’s get an adjective (I suggest ‘Libyan’) in there.