In Poor Taste

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Letter writer takes issue with pun in headline

Back on June 19, the headline on a CBC online news story caught my attention.

CBC was first to break the tragic and heartbreaking story of Amelia Engram, the little girl who was dying of cancer, and her parents wish for the three to be buried together.

It was this headline that gave me pause:

A grave concern: Family with dying daughter loses cemetery appeal

It was the grave concern that caused me discomfort. However, I moved on and didnt think about it again until I saw a letter to the editor in todays Telegram criticizing that headline.

Heres a big chunk of the letter, from Aubrey Smith of Grand Falls-Windsor:

I don't know who wrote this macabre headline at CBC, but whoever wrote it needs to be fired or retrained. If the grave pun was intentional (which I really doubt), I'd fire the writer. If subconscious and unintended, I'd forgive that person with the stipulation that the writer's future work be carefully checked before publication. Puns have their place, but this obviously was not such a place for a pun, even unintentionally. CBC has always had very high standards. Let's preserve that distinction.

I agree with Smiths point of view, though I dont think anyone should be fired over this.

However, a headline-writing course might not go astray.

As a rule, cutesy devices like puns and alliteration have no place in the headline of a tragic news story. Their presence generally indicates that the story material is lighter fare, or is dull and in need of a lift.

Or am I old school on this?

How do other editors and journalists feel about it? Your comments are welcome.

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Recent comments

  • Dennis
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54


    I think the only thing sillier than Mr. Smith's call for firing the writer if the pun was intentional is his assumption that it was not, so I won't even bother with his comments.

    What I am interested in is your statement that *devices like puns and alliteration have no place in the headline of a tragic news story*. I tend to disagree. Well to a point: I wouldn't like to see a headline making light of the story. E.g., if somebody died in a natural gas explosion, I think a headline reading *Man Has Bad Gas* would be in poor taste.

    However, in this case, I don't think the writer could be accused of making light of anything, and I even think the play on words reiterated the seriousness of the issue.