Can’t headline writers and reporters get on the same page?

We live in an age of unprecedented communications technology. With access to cell phones, Skype, email, Twitter, etc., it is has never been easier for people to communicate with one another. So why then is it so hard for reporters and headline writers to talk to each other?

Headlines that mislead or that do not fairly represent a writer’s article are a perennial problem. A recent, especially egregious example can be found in the U.K.’s The Telegraph. Here is the headline and subhead on an article by religious affairs editor John Bingham:

Religion told to halt weddings over gay rights

The future of traditional Indian weddings in Britain is in doubt because of the fallout from gay marriage passing into law, it has emerged.

An entire category of human experience – “religion” — is told to halt weddings? By whom? And if the headline is intended to refer to a specific religion, why not just say so?

Perhaps the subhead is intended to provide a clue by mentioning “traditional Indian weddings.” But that doesn’t really narrow it down since India is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

It’s advisable to never use a nationality as a stand-in for any religion, but since the headline does, can we assume it’s a reference to Hinduism? Since Hindus account for 80 percent of the population of India that must be the religion that holds “traditional Indian weddings,” right? Well, no. This article is about Sikhism, which is not only a minority religion in the U.K. (accounting for only 0.8 percent of the population) but is a minority religion in India too (only 1.9 percent of Indians are Sikhs).

Aside from the confusing and grammatically suspect headline (what does “it has emerged” even mean?), the article itself does a commendable job of reporting on the controversy without editorializing:

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That’s one very, very poor headline about the pope

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?

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