NLP latest! ~ The Headlines are not The News!

September 7, 2011 2 comments Uncategorised

Many years ago a colleague and I became fascinated in the contents of press billboards and headlines, and what were the promptings for those particularly involved in the usage of this branch of ‘journalese’.
We started out by noticing actual ones we’d seen that were worthy of recollection and recounting – and we noticed that certain types of newspaper used certain types of wordings, certain types of impact upon certain types of readers, and so on.
As time went on and we gained a lot of ‘anecdotal’ references for headlines, billboard posters etc – then we started to play around with and experiment with doing our own.

We developed a game which involved a box full of little pieces of card with headline-style words and phrases on – and the game proceeded by taking a handful of these cards and making up meaningful headlines from that handful. The more we played the game – the better and more intricate, subtle and complex became our own hypothetical headlines.

Over a period of time this whole exercise bore some big fruit:-
One immediate one was that it broke up the repetitive boredom of working in an accountancy practice poring over the books and invoices of a multiplicity of small businesses.
The other, much more substantial and long term fruit, was that it not only gave a regular daily practice within a particular genre of linguistic usage, but it also gave us an unconscious background of understanding and practice with preframes; the art of the meaningful ‘overture’; or the art of how to use the distractive and attention grabbing nature of what, for us, began as “SNOW CHAOS DISASTER HORROR”, and ended up as “BANK GIRLS SOB AS HEADLESS CORPSE EATS PIECE OF CAKE”.

Over the years the effect of headlines and preframes has spread to all forms of media and advertising whether they are written or spoken or audio-visual context.
“Coming up later on News at 10…” is used daily through TV evenings, to attract people towards watching the news programme later. And even here there is still a kind of “Read All About It!” clarion call to Joe Public (often with appropriate music in the background) that raises our expectations for discovering something dramatic, life-changing or earth-moving, after the next dull and far less exciting programme.

The trouble is that there is an element of “Cry Wolf” in all this, because in order to grab our attention there is a tendency to amp up the drama over and above what’s really necessary. Eventually, the real news is not as dramatic as the headlines – the product is nothing like as useful as the advert – the book is not nearly as good as its cover suggests.

There are many of us trying to live our lives in a succession of headlines, and getting really upset, bored, angry, sometimes depressed, when nothing comes up to our expectations. And where next does this push us to? A quest for that Holy Grail of one long never-ending thrill?

In order to get a life we need to understand what makes up the Quality of those special Peak Moments, and re-calibrate what really is the difference between ORDINARY and SPECIAL.
And to help that understanding, a good place to start is to devalue the Headlines and look deeper into the real content of the News.