Sunday, October 13, 2013

Making stuff up (headline department)

I generally don't click on "partner content" no matter how reputable the website I'm on, but I couldn't resist a link at (site of my longtime employer, the Boston Globe). I really wanted to know which way I was meant to read the headline on a video link:

Doctor Honored at Hospital After Passing Away During Surgery 

Was the doctor performing surgery (which would make the story almost weird enough for "Grey's Anatomy") or undergoing surgery (not so much)? The subhed didn't do much to enlighten readers: "Young doctor honored with a plaque after passing away during surgery."

So I watched the video, an interview with the plaque-honored man's daughter first aired by WNBC-TV in New York. And which reading was correct? Well, neither, it turned out. The subject of the hed, the late Murray Yanowitz, was in fact: 
--not a doctor but an auditor who worked for Long Island College Hospital
--not "young" but 52 years old when he died (in 1979!)
--neither performing nor undergoing surgery when he died (he was seeing his cardiologist) 
It is true that he was "honored" with a plaque at the hospital, which his daughter hopes to reclaim now that the building is being demolished. (Her quest for the now-missing plaque is the excuse for the story; "Daughter Seeks Dad's Plaque at Doomed Hospital" is the kind of hed it needs.)

It's not unusual for a hed to be slightly (or more) off kilter -- Fred Vultee is on the case, night and day, at Headsup: The Blog -- but what could account for this degree of misreading? Is it an outsourcing case, with copy editing and headline writing done in a faraway country by editors with an insufficient grasp of American (medical) English? Whatever the excuse, it's not a performance to inspire confidence in the "curating" allegedly going on at supposedly respectable news sites like the Globe's.