Birthday headlines

Today, the day I turn 23, is the ultimate in in-betweens: it will be exactly two years before I’m legally able to rent a car, and it’s exactly two years after the day I had my first legal drink (in the U.S., at least).

I have no wild plans for this particular birthday, since work consumes my life and last year’s “Where’s Waldo?”-themed blowout at my house in Eugene, Ore. was memorable enough to carry me through to Feb. 10, 2012. I’ll mark this as the year in which I discovered the small pleasures of birthdays: opening cards over coffee and smiling at the messages, going to work to find a platter of brownies, and hearing from friends I haven’t seen in years. I don’t need to celebrate my existence with bar-hopping or expensive dinners.

Today, I celebrated as only I would do: by looking up Seattle Times headlines from Feb. 10, 1988, the day I was born. Startlingly, some of the headlines I found could be in a newspaper today. I leave you with them here.

  • Americans Should Open Minds To Non-Western Cultures
  • Military Can’t Bar Gays, Court Rules
  • U.S. Offers Plan For Mideast Peace
  • Middle Class Seems Stuck In Middle — Economists Worry Over Increasing Gap Between Rich, Poor
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Flying with the Blue Angels

A story assignment I got yesterday was perhaps the most fun assignment I’ve ever had.

I’ve been told that if someone gives you the opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels, you don’t say no. But initially, I did say no. I’ve never been big on risktaking, and I’ve never derived much pleasure from an adrenaline rush.

Then I learned I’d be riding in a chase plane alongside the Blue Angels and since photographers would be hanging out of the plane’s open side, there wouldn’t be any funny business. So I said yes.

Boy, I’m glad I did! My flight earned me a front-page centerpiece story in today’s paper and a biography and mug shot of myself to boot. Plus, the experience reminded me once again why I love this job so much: it lets me meet people from all walks of life and do things I’d never get to do were I not a member of the press. It enlightens me to perspectives I previously didn’t understand or wasn’t aware of. And it lets me begin sentences with conjunctions and end sentences with prepositions!

Another thing I love about this job–something few people mention when they wax poetic about the life of the reporter–is the feedback I get after I’m done with my work. The positive feedback reminds me that I’m making a valuable contribution to society, while the negative feedback (when it’s logical) makes me think about what I can do better in the future. I get plenty of both kinds of feedback here at the Times, more than I’ve ever gotten.

However, there’s always the occasional angry comment that isn’t useful to me, and I got several of those today. More than half the calls and e-mails I got this morning and afternoon following my page A1 debut concerned the headline. People were angry it called the Blue Angels “daredevils,” as it implies they’re reckless rather than practiced.

This morning I suggested to an editor that tomorrow’s front page read, in 100-point bold font, “REPORTERS DO NOT WRITE HEADLINES.”

Here’s a question I’ve been mulling all day today: as transparent organizations, how far should newspapers go to make readers aware of the news-gathering and -editing process? Is it necessary for readers to know the specifics, or is it just necessary for them to know the news?

In my thesis, I interviewed newspapers to find out about their copy editing practices both in print and online, and I came to the conclusion that newspapers should make these editing practices clear to readers, if only in a small box at the bottom of their web page. Readers who spot a mistake in a staff blog and ask, “Don’t you people have copy editors?” should know that blogs are not, in fact, copy edited at many newspapers.

In the same vein, I think people who angrily ask reporters why they chose specific words in a headline should know reporters don’t, in fact, write the headlines that adorn their stories.