One of the biggest problems in journalism is when you have a really great headline, but the article itself is lacking in content. This is a problem that many journalists face, and I often discuss it in my classroom. Just the other day one of my brighter students brought the issue up.
“Miss Nicole, what should we do when we have a really great headline for a story, but we don’t really have much in terms of information on the topic?”
“That’s a great question, Jeremy. My advice is to open with an anecdote. Something that personalizes the story and makes it seem like it’s going somewhere.”
Jeremy nodded, jotted down a few notes in his notebook, and I answered a couple more questions from my more curious and attentive students. After a few minutes, however, Jeremy raised his hand again.
“Miss Nicole, what if the anecdote has nothing to do with the story?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. That’s the thing about teaching, even from behind the podium, you’re still learning. Often, the lines blur between teacher and student, master and disciple. I learn as much from them as they learn from me.
“It doesn’t really matter, Jeremy. Just jam some kind of cliché in there and feign insight. By the time the reader realizes what you’re doing, they’ll have forgotten about your great headline and you’ll have a big chunk of the article finished already.”
“But, Miss Nicole,” interjected the obnoxious little Jeremy, who was starting to get on my nerves. “How do we segue an unrelated anecdote into the original story? Doesn’t it have to come full circle at some point?”
The class fell silent. I didn’t have an answer. With Jeremy’s question, my lesson came to a screeching halt. Kind of like how Bruce Jenner’s car came to a screeching halt on Saturday, right before he was involved in a multi-vehicle accident that left one person dead. Jenner, the sixty five year old step father of the Kardashian sisters and former Olympic athlete, has not been charged with any crime.
I rubbed my temples, quelled my anger, and tried to answer Jeremy as plainly as possible.
“Look Jeremy you’ll think of something, I’m sure. A metaphor perhaps? Some kind of simile? There’s a million ways to tie two ideas together. Transitioning between two ideas is relatively simple,” I told the young man. The class nodded in agreement. Transitioning between two ideas is certainly much easier than, say, transitioning between genders, in a Bruce Jenner fashion, in which even the wealthy and powerful have to suffer through the long drawn out process of self-discovery and public and personal acceptance that many trans people face.
“But Miss Nicole,” chimed Jeremy, right on cue. “What if the anecdote itself overpowers the referent? Won’t it be obvious? Won’t people know you’re just trying to fill space, and that you’re not really trying to editorialize in a literary fashion?”
“But why, Miss Nicole?”
“Because people aren’t that smart, Jeremy,” I stated bluntly. “And let’s not kid ourselves. We produce online content. No one is really thinking about the quality of our work. The headline yields the click, and the click pays the bills. The content itself is superficial.”
Jeremy slumped back in his chair, defeated, looking as if an airbag had just deployed in his face. As if he had just been involved in a large collision in Malibu, like Bruce Jenner, who is the stepfather of the Kardashians. And who was in the Olympics at some point and who is now a woman.
“Doesn’t that make what we do, as entertainment reporters, worthless?” he asked. “Doesn’t that mean it’s all bullshit?”
“Yes Jeremy. Yes it does.”