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August 11, 2016

AFP Headline on Stabbing Says Less With More

Jerusalem stabbing shirt.jpg
The shirt belonging to the 18-year-old Jew injured in a Palestinian stabbing attack today (Photo from Israel Police)

Poynter Institute, a leading journalism organization, has noted that headlines are "often the most important element on a page." Many hurried readers never get beyond the headlines, and so the headline may be the only information they learn about the story. For these reasons, accuracy and clarity is particularly vital when it comes to headlines.

Headlines from two leading wire services, the Associated Press and Agence France Presse, about a Palestinian stabbing attack today in Jerusalem demonstrate how different headlines about the same event can provide more or less information, and give a clear, or less informative, snapshot of events. Wire service headlines are particularly influential because newspapers and websites around the world reproduce them.

AFP's headline is: "Jewish man stabbed in suspected Jerusalem 'terror' attack: police"

afp suspected stabbing.jpg

AP's headline states: "Palestinian stabs, wounds Israeli teen in Jerusalem"

ap stabbing attack.jpg

The differences between the two are striking.

1) AFP's headline does not identify the perpetrator. AP's does (Palestinian). Therefore, AP gives more basic information critical to the story. AFP gives less.

2) AFP uses the passive voice ("Jewish man stabbed"). AP uses the active voice ("Palestinians stabs"). Passive voice obscures the perpetrator.

3) AFP's headline is nine words. AP's is just seven. AP uses less to say more. AFP wastes words. The headline identifies police as the source of the information that a Jewish man was stabbed, so it is redundant to label the stabbing as a "suspected" terror attack. Moreover, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld was definitive in his characterization of the attack as terror. He did not refer to a "suspected" terror attack. (In addition, the scare quotes on the word "terror" aren't necessary, because, again, the headline already attributes the information to the police.)

Posted by TS at August 11, 2016 02:40 PM

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