Evaluating print and broadcast news in the San Francisco Bay Area from A to F.
E-mail to a friend | Printer-friendly version | Discuss story

Getting ahead of the news

Chronicle response follows

A front page headline in today's San Francisco Chronicle exclaims "UC abruptly tightens admission standards."

But it didn't.

Faced with the good news that more students are apparently qualifying for admission to the elite nine-campus system, U.C. officials said that standards would have to be tightened in the future to avoid enrolling more than the 12.5% target set by the state's Master Plan.

Patrick Mattimore

But they didn't tighten standards. The Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, and indeed even the Chronicle, reported that proposed changes in eligibility will be made by the UC regents in July. The regents would then be responsible for making any changes in admissions standards.

One way to gauge the Chronicle's headline is to examine other newspapers that covered the same story. For example, the Mercury News, more modestly headlines with, “UC may raise the bar on entrance requirement.” The Oakland Tribune’s headline is “New study shows more students meet UC eligibility requirements.” The L.A. Times chose to include the admissions information within another story about fee considerations.

A good newspaper headline should be like an appetizer to a fine meal. That is, it should whet a reader’s palate for the main course. It should not overwhelm the reader by promising more than the story can deliver.

Few people read an entire newspaper. For papers to sell, editors know that they must attract potential consumers’ attention. They also know that to keep readers they cannot consistently oversell the news with blaring headlines.

These are “wow” and “hmmm” stories -- ones that sharply catch a reader’s interest but leave one feeling that the promise was not fulfilled. Balancing a mainstream newspaper’s responsibility to both sell and not oversell the news can be tricky. How a paper manages the task to a great extent defines the quality of that newspaper.

At a time when Americans are reading newspapers less and less and news is being served as increasingly superficial fast food fare, it is essential that editors abide by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics regarding headline accuracy and objectivity. The Code states: “Newspaper headlines should be fully warranted by the contents of the articles they accompany.”

Dick Rogers, public editor of the Chronicle responds:

I don't have any quarrel with the hed. It seems to reflect the major elements of the story -- that the governing body was responding abruptly and did order a change in admissions standards. The story says that the specifics of that change must still be determined through a process involving the faculty committee. I suppose it would be more literal to say that UC abruptly decided to change the standards (although it obvious wouldn't fit). But the hed doesn't strike me as misleading any more than the kinds of headlines that declare the Legislature tightens a budget or expands rights for the disabled or etc. None of those things happen the moment the governing body makes the decision. They all have to be carried out through an administrative process.

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.

WEEKLY UPDATES

More...
A project of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, Grade the News is affiliated with the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University and KTEH, public television in Silicon Valley.

Monitoring the Bay Area's most popular news media:

Contra Costa Times

Knight Ridder

San Francisco Chronicle

Hearst

San Jose Mercury News

Knight Ridder

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KRON, San Francisco

KRON, San Francisco

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

 

Bay Area media advocates:

Media Alliance
Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at SFSU
Maynard Institute
Youth Media Council
Project Censored
New California Media
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter
National Writers Union Bay Area chapter

Site highlights

THE GROWTH OF FREE NEWSPAPERS

The three-part series follows the rise of three Bay Area handouts:
• Part 1: At free dailies, advertisers sometimes call the shots
• Part 2: Free daily papers: more local but often superficial
• Part 3: Free papers' growth threatens traditional news
• See also: SF Examiner and Independent agree to end payola restaurant reviews
• And: The free tabloid that wasn't: East Bay's aborted Daily Flash

FATE OF KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Lou Alexander started a firestorm with his original guest commentary predicting the company would be sold. Several other experts on newspapers have weighed in:
Newspapers can't cut their way back into Wall Street investors' hearts, by Stephen R. Lacy; Alexander responds
Humbler profits won't encourage buyouts, by John Morton; Alexander responds
Newspapers can't maintain monopoly profits because they've lost their monopolies, by Philip Meyer
Knight Ridder in grave jeopardy, by Lou Alexander...

KQED-FM AUDIO PERSPECTIVES BY JOHN MCMANUS

Leakers and plumbers: There's no difference between a good leak and a bad leak? Journalists need a shield law. 11/22/05
Unintended consequences: How Craigslist and similar services are sucking revenue from faltering newspapers. 9/13/05
Is CPB irrelevant? As Congress moves to cut public broadcasting funds, has CPB become obsolete in the modern marketplace. 6/26/05
The paradox of news: There's more news available and its cheaper than ever before, but fewer young people are interested. 5/12/05

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Most recent updatesHow the Bay Area's most popular media stack up.Talk about Bay Area journalism in our on-line discussion forum. A printable news scorecard you can use at home or in school. Raves and rants aimed at the local media. What would you do if you were the editor? Upcoming happenings and calls for public action. Let 'em know! Contact a local newsroom.Codes of ethics, local media advocates and journalism tools. Tip us off about the local media, or tell us how we're doing.Oops.A comprehensive list of past GTN exclusives.