Monday December 11, 2017
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By Akash Shukla

Headlines are important tools as newspapers reproduce knowledge, ideologies, public consensus. They sometimes challenge dominant discourses by maintaining their independence and autonomous agency. (Conslavo, 1998, Kelner, 1995, Louw, 2001, MacDonald, 2003, Piacrd & Broody, 2000, Seedat, 1999, p. 340 as cited in MacRitchie and Seedat, 2008).

468slide1What is a headline to a news story? The primary question begins to deal with a reporter’s confusion and journeys all the way to a sub-editor’s scare. The haze of a perfect headline clears with the news editor’s last deliberation. The editor’s word for the chosen headline to run into Print is its last claim for wordplay sans ambiguity.

While a news piece has an introduction, body and conclusion, headline, strangely, is the introduction even before a story is introduced. Headline as a pre-introduction arrests a reader’s floating attention and hauls it with a wordplay lasso before his/her attention may meander to something more interesting; perhaps a cuisine story or soul curry for that matter. Good versus bad headers is a tricky affair. Sample this…


Headline 2: BIRTH OF INDIA’S FREEDOM (source: TOI)

Headline 3: FREE INDIA IS BORN (source: The Hindu)

Headline 4: INDIA WAKES TO LIFE & FREEDOM (source: The Tribune)

In headlines (1), (2), & (3), the variation could easily be determined by the varied news treatment of various newspapers to the same context of India’s Independence. All of these headlines appeared as the banner headlines on the cover page (page 1) of the three newspapers respectively.

The use of words in all capitals reflects on the utmost significance delegated to the news of Independence, which clearly separates it with the other news items of lesser significance on the page. While headline (1) is more direct and penetrating, like a bullet for the reader, headlines (2), (3) and (4) are metaphorical and literary in their approach. In headline (2), the stress is on the word ‘BIRTH’ as it is in the subject position while headline (3) has laid its primary focus on the word ‘FREE INDIA’ by placing it in the subject position. However, headline (4) digresses from (2) and (3) and strays into violation of linguistic rules of syntax and grammar by employing ‘&’ instead of ‘and’.

Though use of symbols are a violation by formal standards of English and its use is strictly to be avoided in the body text, yet the volition is seldom permitted in headlines to tackle space-crunch problems and to avoid the risk of a headline running into the next deck.

Why is a headline strong? They impact the reader with certain linguistic features that make them particularly memorable and effective. This is achieved through the use of puns and alliteration. Wordplay catches the eye more than anything else.

STRONG HEADLINE (5): 9 dead, 30 injured after train derails in Maharashtra

WEAK HEADLINE (6): Train derailment between Nagothane and Roha near Mumbai

STRONG HEADLINE (7): Goods train derails at Ukshi; Konkan route affected

WEAK HEADLINE (8): Death on wheels: Commuter anger rises over Mumbai’s local trains

The aforementioned headlines have been categorically demarcated as strong and weak on the basis of language use, subject-object position, directness of words, aptness, content load and overload and wordiness. All the headers (5), (6), (7) and (8) are written in a context of train derailment in Maharashtra. The writer endeavours to bring out the story theme through directness (headline 5); on other occasions, he chooses to dramatise the idea for a wider audience (headline 8).

Headlines (5) and (7) are to-the-point apt headers. They speak of the accident and about the injured count while headlines (6) and (8) are long and drawy. They employ use of long words like ‘derailment’ and ‘Nagothane’. It is possible to use ‘derail’ instead of ‘derailment’ so use of the latter is tantamount to redundancy.

In an attempt to enhance the impact of the accident in header (8), a story slug ‘death on wheels’ has been used and it speaks of commuters’ anger over local trains and its performance. The headline for a hard news should essentially conform to the norm of directness in approach e.g. Death on wheels: Commuter anger rises over Mumbai’s local trains Commuters’ ire over Mumbai trains .

It is in no way being argued that there is anything wrong with the original headline. However, a trainee reporter can learn much by adhering to the law of compactness in a headline before expanding it.


Let us understand how the headline of a hard news is different from a soft news and how both of them contrastively move away from the domains of columns and features. Observe the tenacity of headlines moving from high to low in the following examples:

9.) Hard news Header: Chennai blasts: Jayalalithaa snubs Centre, refuses its

help (TOI)

10.) Soft news Header: Can new govt stage renewal energy revolution? (TOI)

11.) Feature Header: Country’s women need more power: model Sonalika

Sahay (HT)

12.) Column Header: Don’t shoot the messenger (Third Eye by Barkha Dutt, HT)

13.) Blog Header: Sameer Arshad: Wounds fester in Kashmir, democracy has

not healed them (TOI)

How is a hard-news headline different from its soft-news counterpart? While the former hits on the immediacy of the situation, the latter can experiment deeper with language as the shelf life of a soft news is always more than that of a hard news.

A soft-news headline can be analyzed over a couple of days before it is finally produced for Print or Broadcast media. Since a hard news cannot be held back due to its inevitable immediacy, its headline treatment is always the most impactful and intense among all the other types (Read Hard News example 9). The example 10 on soft news stated above reveals one more language disturbance; it depicts the use of short forms. Structures like ‘govt’ are used to represent full words like government. Many such examples are incessantly used in Indian Print and Electronic media. Some of the most popular ones are ‘NaMo’ for Narendra Modi, ‘Sush’ for Sushmita Sen, ‘IT’ for Information Technology, ‘I-T’ for Income Tax, ‘Cong’ for Congress, ‘Jaya’ for Jayalalithaa, Guj for Gujarat, ‘GenNext’ for Generation Next, and LU stands for Lucknow University.

Representations like Sush for Sushmita Sen are backward formations in accordance with the morphological rules. All abbreviations, acronyms, word blends and backward formations stem out of Morphology (study of words); their basic object is to save space and avoid repetition that leads to redundancies.

The case with features, columns and blogs is no different. With more time at hand, these columns, blogs, and features witness multiple layers of analysis and therefore the headlines can vary in their news peg to a great extent. They verge on the analysis factor and their headers fortify this cause.

Apart from hard-news headlines, the headers have a changeable nature that can make peace with all the important aspects factored in the story or they could turn out to be as purely creative endeavors. Have a look at the creative, inventive and the innovative shades in the following headlines from newspapers and magazines:

14.) City’s petition for tracks gets a running chance (TOI)

15.) Mangoes have a ‘pest’ering problem (HT)


(Bollywood makes it fashionable to slim and bare it)


(Women want them perfect. Men want less flab. Breast surgery is the new rage.)

All the aforementioned headers (14), (15), (16), and (17) reflect word play of different sorts. Header (14) matches ‘track’ with ‘running choice’ as in literal sense trains and engines run on tracks so petition here gets a ‘running chance’ instead of a static one.

Headline (15) speaks of mangoes suffering from problems of aphids (a bug that destroys the groves), therefore, pest has been put in single quotes to isolate it from the term pestering to create an outstanding effect on mangoes. While headers (16) and (17) are cover-page headlines from a well-known Indian magazine, they reflect changing trends by dramatizing the naval and the breasts of the women of contemporary era.

The word ‘booby trap’ here does not mean police dragnet it actually is going by the slang connotation for a woman’s bosom. The editor has linguistically played upon two characteristics of language fundamentally; language is arbitrary and it is polysemous in nature. The magazine discourse is hegemonic in nature as it is setting trends.

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TN govt slams defamation case against TOI, Dinamalar


Chennai: Tamil Nadu dailies Dinamalar (Tamil) and Times of India (English) have been slammed against defamation case by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on Monday for their reportage on the reasons for Chennai floods.

The case was filed by the city public prosecutor ML Jegan on behalf of Jayalalithaa, said Jaya TV. He submitted that the contents of the news item in the Tamil daily on December 12, 2015, captioned “Heavy rains were converted into floods by Tamil Nadu government” was defamatory in nature.

According to the petition, the state government and Jayalalithaa are derogatorily reported in the news published by these two newspapers even after a clarification issued by Chief Secretary K.Gnanadesikan on the process followed while opening the sluice gates of the Chembarambakkam Lake and the reason for Chennai going under water last month.
The newspapers had reported that the opening of lake gates to let out the surplus water was delayed due to bureaucratic red tape.

Contravening the allegations, Gnanadesikan, in a statement on December 13, said that official indecision or mismanagement of release of water from the Chembarambakkam lake into the Adyar River were not the causes of the Chennai flooding but was caused primarily due to the very high rainfall in November, which was followed by more rain in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts on December 1.(IANS)

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Edit with a KISS!


By Akash Shukla

The maxim for editing can be explained with no better acronym— KISS. The ‘Keep it Short and Simple’ mantra helps the editors and reporters alike to wade through the quagmire of trash writing and long-winded write-ups.

Some of the funny quips from the reporter’s domain are as follows…

  • The case would be cracked in transparent manner and the culprits would be dealt with iron hands.
  • The instructions of Chief Development Officer to provide about 50,000 Above Poetry Line(APL) ration cards and Below Poverty Line ration…
  • As pleasurable winter is going on that make my mood full of Masti.
  • I feel like lingering with my boyfriend my parents are familiar with but because of interference of civic and police I am petrified of coming in limelight.
  • The thieves not even burgled the house of jeweler, but they also made picnic there as well. They prepared edibles and relished it with the chilled cold drinks that were kept inside the refrigerator, which indicated that the city’s law and order situation has gone worsened.
  • While Pooja turned into a fire-ball, Mehtab fled from the spot.

The above-stated examples reflect the obnoxious yet the obvious language disparity when a person chooses to codify a Hindi Muhavara into an English idiom. Reporters tend to transliterate one language to the other.

It is a common misnomer that grammar of one language (Hindi) would adopt the rules of the other (English).

While aspiring print journalists penned the K-word for further reference, the media educationist spoke of hand-subbing in the line of fire, popularly known as the ‘deadline’. What people don’t know is that rapid editing becomes a far cry when errors pertaining to word power and misplaced usage eat their way into the editor’s efficiency.

Have a look at some of the most common gaffes that an Indian editor grapples with on a daily basis…

  • The Panchayati Raj department has decided to lighten the streets in the villages by installing solar streetlights in the district villages.
  • Health department of Kanpur Municipal Corporation collected food samples from half-a-dozen hotels to ensure adulteration on Monday.
  • He claimed that the perpetrators sketches must be made with the help of Chote Lal who was a lonely eyewitness.
  • Not only people but the health department staff are living in panicky
  • ….makes one believe that this year the event would prove to be a rocking block-bluster

All of these anecdotes are a good read for an English learner but they are hazardous for the editorial desk when the work is being taken care of at the eleventh hour. Reporters and editors share a symbiotic work balance. It is equally ridiculous for both to imagine their work survival without the other.

Poor constructions and jumbled facts predominate reports of various beats, namely, crime, business and page three. A learner can get a hang of it in bits by going through these examples:

  • Taking whiskey, vodka, beer, rum, gin, vine, champagne and even tequila shots is very common in girls and would certainly leave the boys turn their heads.
  • The flooding Short Messages in mobile and emails in inboxes dwindle the sale of greetings.
  • The network congestion throw cold water on the emotions of several people.
  • All the station In-charges in the city are making gruelling efforts to praise the god and goddess by offering them lucrative offers to avert the chance of the first FIR lodged at their respective police stations on the new year 2010.

From medical exigency to financial emergency, from on-the-border reportage to on-the-line interview, layer by layer subbing is the master key to jimmy all locks.

Since the speaker wasn’t a dullard, he didn’t disappoint with a drab harangue. He addressed the active-passive issue in the formation of headlines for English newspapers in India. Shooting instances from his mainstream days, he summarized and spoke of:

Headline 1: Cops canecharge mob

Headline 2: Irate mob batoncharged

Semantically, there is no difference between the two. But syntactically, headline 1 pegs the importance on the word ‘cops’ while the headline 2 treats the same news differently and gives the same importance to a different word ‘Irate mob’. Headline 1 being active in nature speaks of cops in action in present tense, therefore, highlights immediacy. Headline 2 is the passivised form of headline 1. It speaks of an occurred event, a thing of recent past. Headline 2 weakens the event of occurrence.


Another example:

Headline 1: Farmer killed in dispute

Headline 2: Dispute causes farmer’s death

Though headline 1 employs ‘ed’ form or the past form of the main verb ‘kill’ yet it is better if compared to headline 2 because it fits in less space and serves the purpose if there is space crunch on the page. Although both headers employ four words to bring out the meaning, headline one does it in a more dignified and concise manner.

“None of the days are same. No two stories have the same treatment. And, no two mood swings of the boss are easy to survive. Everyone presses the panic button when an idea fails to fall in place on the page layout. The top bosses are harried if they can’t keep the ‘sacred cow’ out of the harm’s way. A dexterous sub-editor edits his way out of these pot-boilers,” said the insightful media educationist.

For the first time, we realized that even 50 shades of malevolence were possible. The K-rule in editing not only helps in the removal of chaff from grain but it also helps us with the discipline of language in such a way that we must not write to impress but to inspire.

Since language is arbitrary and we twist it to our purpose for desired meanings, the one who reaches the closest to the latter is called ‘the gifted’ or ‘a good copy editor’. But all this dexterity or bliss from God cannot rule out the perennial and reinforced use of KISS mantra. How else can one connect and shape the views of the layman in the impoverished democracy of India? Keeping it short and simple helps the reader with easy and prolonged retention.

Simplicity is not only the charm of life but also of those with meagre livelihood. We had a task at hand to prod the young and old and ask them about the most important news that they had encountered in their life till now. Babri Demolition, Sikh Riots, and Aarushi Murder Case were some of the most voiced and strongly-opined answers. All and sundry claimed that since the coverage was not jargonistic, they remember a lot about it. Some of them even uttered headlines which were printed a decade ago.

The amusement that the activity drew does not seek refuge in the language but in the treatment of language instead. The KISS factor determines not only the language but also prunes and pegs the view that needs to be tabled everyday for the common man’s reading.