Today's in-class headline writing really bothered me. I edited the lead of the "Single-car accident" story into "A 26-year-old Paxton farmer was critically injured early this morning when his car crashed into a pole at Green and First Streets, Champaign." But when I was to write the headline for the story, I got stuck there. The lead is supposed to contains the key elements of the story. So is the headline. Therefore, there is usually some overlap of the content between the two. However, the lead comes immediately after the headline. In order to avoid repitition, I would try to use different words in headline. What's the substitute for "injure"? "Hurt"? "Hurt" seems to be more about feeling and emotion. "Wound"? "Wound" sounds too negligible. "Harm"? It has less action. "Damage"? Rarely said of a person as a whole. And how can I express "critical" at the same time? I racked my brain and finally came up with "in bad shape". I did not know if it is appropriate; literally, it sounds to me as if a person is disfigured. The online dictionary says "shape" can mean physical condition. So I went with it.
My headline reads:
now in bad shape
I know it is a crappy headline. The headline should be no doubt in present tense.Why "now"? The fact is, without "now", the second line looks too short. I just used it for the sake of taking space. Could I rewrite it? Honestly, I consider the only useful information in this story is that "the driver was too fast" and "he was in critical condition." It was really hard for me to come up with a version that much different from this one. What's more, it had never occurred to me before that 18 points per line is such a demanding task. I easily exceeded the length. I struggled with it for about ten minutes until the bell rang. Then I decided to let it be. At least I learned one thing: headline writing is never easy. Those pun headlines need more wit.