As I have stressed many times here at GetReligion, it’s important for readers to understand that reporters rarely write the headlines that accompany their stories.
Editors and specialists at copy desks write the headlines. It’s tough work, and I say that as someone who did that job for several years early in my career.
A good headline can really help a story. A bad one can warp the framework in which the reader encounters the ideas and fact in the text. Alas, that’s just the way the business works.
I often wonder if your GetReligionistas need to develop a special feature or slug-line for bad headlines about religion, especially bad headlines about stories that are either really good or, at the very least, solid.
Take, for example, that Huffington Post headline that dominated a Reuters report about yet another interesting statement — from remarks made without a prepared text — by Pope Francis. Let’s look at a key chunk of the text first:
“If we step outside of ourselves, we will find poverty,” he said, repeating his call for Catholics to do more to seek out those on the fringes of society who need help the most,” he said from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. “Today, and it breaks my heart to say it, finding a homeless person who has died of cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals, that is news, but the many children who don’t have food — that’s not news. This is grave. We can’t rest easy while things are this way.”
The crowd, most of whom are already involved in charity work, interrupted him often with applause.
“We cannot become starched Christians, too polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea. We have to become courageous Christians and seek out those (who need help most),” he said.
This is yet another example of the pope attempting to promote that has been called a “religious sense” or a “religious sensibility” that surrounds the events of everyday life. See my recent Scripps Howard column for some additional examples.
His point is that true faith is found in words matched with deeds, not with words alone.
So what was the headline at HuffPo?
Well, that would be this:
Pope Francis Insists Church Must Help Poor, Not ‘Speak Of Theology’
Where in the story does the pope downgrade the need for sound theology or the need to be able to speak clearly about it?
Now, in the digital age, it’s quite easy to tweak the size of headlines in a computer. In this case, the headline only needed one more work to be accurate — “merely.” Put the word “merely” in front of “Speak of Theology” and you have the heart of what he said. Right?