Update: After some pushing, I got the headline fixed.
Original post follows
I’ve complained in the past about the fact that writers in newspapers and magazines generally don’t get to choose their headlines. I’ve read that this is a hangover from the days of hot metal typesetting, when the headline had to be chosen to fit the layout of the paper, determined at the last minute by the sub-editors. Whatever the case, the tradition has endured.
I’ve rarely been happy with the headlines chosen for me, but most of the time they are not bad enough for me to complain. Today was an exception. Following my interview on the dairy industry, which was the subject of this post, the ABC ran a story which focused on a simple piece of arithmetic, quoted as follows
Professor of economics at the University of Queensland John Quiggin said if milk prices kept up with inflation, consumers would have to fork out an extra 46 cents a litre.
“If you maintained the real price of milk with 20 per cent inflation [across nine years] that would be around $1.56 today,” he said.
“Of course there is no economic law that says that all prices should rise at the same rate.
That was accurate as far as it went, though of course none of the points I actually wanted to make got through. The problem was with the subeditors, who highlight the sentence ending “$1.56 today”, and ran the piece under the headline Economics professor says milk should be $1.56 a litre in 2019, something dairy industry hopes for. I’ve complained, but nothing is going to happen on a Sunday, and probably nothing will be done anyway.
This reminds me of a more tangled case, which involved me in a silly Twitter fight recently.
In the context of the debate about the “income recession”, of which I have steered clear, the ACTU undertook some recession which claimed to show that household incomes have fallen faster in the past few years than during the recession of the 1990s. The ACTU’s issued a press release which mostly got it right, but got confused between levels and growth rates in a couple of places. The release ran in the union-backed New Daily, and of course, their subeditor picked out the juicy quote “Living standards at lowest point in 20 years” for the lead para and headline, ignoring the correct statement with which the article ended.
At this point, Fairfax economics correspondent Eryk Bagshaw got into the act, slamming the ACTU for an “extraordinary claim”. When contacted, the ACTU clarified that it was referring to rates of changes and not levels. But illustrating the military maxim “Never volunteer, never apologize, never explain”, Bagshaw treated this as an admission of error rather than as a correction of an obvious confusion.
Plenty of blame to go around here, but the lesson for me is clear. From now on, I’m going to insist on writing my own headlines, or, if that’s not possible, getting a right of veto
* See what I did there?