It’s time again for “You write the headline,” that fun, second-guessing game in which you, dear reader, match journalistic wits with The Oregonian’s editors.
It’s late Wednesday night and you are hunkered down in The Oregonian’s cubicled newsroom reading copy for the lead story slated for the top of Thursday's front page.
Your job: write a headline for it.
On your editing screen is the lead written by veteran reporter Harry Esteve.
“Democrat Jeff Merkley has leapt from Oregon’s Statehouse to the U.S. Senate, ousting two-term Republican Gordon Smith after an expensive, high-stakes contest that will help shift the balance of power in Washington.”
Second paragraph: “The Oregonian projects that Merkley will squeak by Smith by the time all the votes are counted.”
The first-paragraph is resoundingly clear: Merkley’s going to the Senate; Smith is headed back to his Pendleton pea patch.
Based on the lead, what headline writer wouldn’t write “Merkley takes Senate seat” or “Smith out; Merkley in” or “Merkley edges out Smith”? Or, well, you try it…
But then there’s the qualifier: The declared victory is based on “The Oregonian’s projections.”
Nightmare visions of “Dewey Wins!” cavort in your head.
Total cognitive dissonance.
So what is the headline that emerges from the copy desk? “Merkley leads Senate vote.”
Clearly Esteve and the headline writer need to talk. Clearly, they didn’t, leaving this reader to wonder what is going on.
Friends at The Oregonian tell me the collapse of ad revenue and the resulting staff cutbacks are demoralizing the newsroom. Feelings are raw. It’s not a fun place to be.
It’s all understandable, but the tensions shouldn’t leak out on the pages of the paper.