Tuesday, October 7, 2008

wx ax

In my short time as a writer for a news station, I've come to understand that the type of writing I'm doing is the literary equivalent of working in a morgue. The subject matter is primarily death. There is always a shooting to report. A stabbing. A fire. A car accident. Accidents are so frequently reported that they are tracked under the abbreviation, "Ax."

Oddly enough, weather is referred to as "Wx" so when you have an accident involving the weather, e.g. last week with the remains of Hurricane Whatsitsfuck - the oak tree that fell and trapped a convalescent woman upstairs in her bedroom without power, such an incident is referred to as a "Wx Ax."

The writing itself is as thankless as the work done by a mortician. With web writing, quantity is favored over quality. Strongly favored. Research tells us that most people don't read most online articles past the headline, so the primary goal of the news web page is to get as many new and fresh headlines up as possible. The story behind it need not be anything more than a few slapdash lines thrown together. If it is more, then great, just as long as you didn't take too much time writing it that the headlines on the page began to stagnate.

Like the mortician's work, the news writer's only stands out if you've noticeably fucked up. If you report the auto ax on the right street - Maple Ave. - but in Peters instead of South Fayette township, or get the number of pit bulls taken by the police from the foreclosed home wrong, or misspell the names of the two Sheraden boys who died to a house fire due to no batteries in the smoke alarms. That's when you're recognized.

But even so, mistakes such as these aren't a big deal. Just like it is with blog writing, all you have to do is edit and re-post. The big deal, as I said, is refresh, refresh, refresh the headlines.

There are only so many death and destruction headlines to write locally in a given day, though. This unavoidable fact of news life is circumnavigated by updating existing headlines on a regular basis, often when there is absolutely nothing new to report. For example, the headline "Man With Gun Arrested At Beaver Co. Obama Rally" written in the morning may well appear in the afternoon as "Beaver Man Packs Heat At Obama Rally, Faces Charges" in the afternoon. Same story, but freshened up for the news page.

This quest for freshness of headlines leads to headlines being written for events that are barely newsworthy. Fluff pieces. The fountain at a local park was dyed pink during breast cancer awareness month so the headline, "Point Park Fountain Goes Pink For Breast Cancer Awareness" is a result. That sort of thing.

Often only another web news writer can appreciate a well-written headline or story for what it is, and even then, it's not the same kind of appreciation say, a literary writer has for an other's work. News writing doesn't endure. It's gone and forgotten once the next headline has replaced it. And you don't have web news writers pausing in the middle of the day to reflect back upon an other's work and say, "Damn, I wish I had written that!" No more than I can imagine one mortician watching another work upon a cadaver and saying, "I wish I could open a chest cavity with that same effortless grace!"

I've found I deal with the death and destruction and fluff by bringing a poetic mentality to the writing of my headlines. So far it has gone unacknowledged, and I hope it continues to be overlooked by the powers that be. I take a few extra moments to exercise this mentality solely for my own amusement. It's how I get through the day. A few recent examples:

I enjoyed using rhyme in "Attempted Calf Snatch In Masontown After Three Slashed," a headline I wrote for a story about a serial animal skinner who's been sneaking onto a man's cattle ranch at night to skin his animals alive.

I could not resist the temptation (albeit in poor taste) to employ irony in writing the headline to a story in which a woman was accidentally run over by a teenager who offered to help her parallel park her car. It read simply, "Elderly Woman Run Over By Good Samaritan."

My favorite was this little bit of innuendo for a fluff piece. Two women affiliated with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demonstrated in Market Square recently; they showered naked in public, making an argument for vegetarianism by pointing out that some large amount of water is wasted in producing a single pound of consumable meat.

My headline read, "PETA Gets Naked In Shower To Beat Meat."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good stuff

- Ambro