Thursday, September 4, 2003

No Shame. Repeat. No Shame.

A newspaper consultant mentioned this point in a workshop I attended a month or three ago. I think it's a good one for people who work with words to remember.

Just because someone else says the same thing doesn't mean it's not worth saying.

This was applied specifically to headlines in the workshop. If many newspapers use the a similar headline, that doesn't make the headline automatically bad.

Many invoke the copy editing monster of "cliché" on such occasions. We should avoid cliché. I agree. But the terms are ultimately part of our language, part of the day-to-day discourse of millions of people. When push comes to shove, then, we shouldn't act like robots. Take it on a case-by-case basis. (I know. I used two clichés in this paragraph. I think they worked.)

Thus, "Thanks for the Memories" as a headline for Bob Hope's obituary is not necessarily bad. Yes, the phrase is a cliché. Yes, lots and lots and lots and lots of newspapers used it. But I bet readers liked it. I doubt a significant number looked at A-1 and said "Too bad my newspaper is so unoriginal."

We should watch and know every time a significant cliché is used in a story or a headline. We should have an excellent reason to use it. But if the reason exists, and if the cliché (or its brother, the "obvious" headline) is apt, run the headline.

We have nothing to be ashamed of.