August 12, 2003

Arnold Schwarzenactor

Headline writers are terminating Schwarzenegger.

The most famous candidate in California's free-for-all recall (no, not Gary Coleman) should change his name from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Arnold Actor because that's what headline writers who can't fit his 14-letter name into one- and two-column heds are calling him.

Here's today's top political story in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Actor has poor voting record." The paper's Web site, SFGate, where presumably formatting is even less generous with words: "Actor Missed Elections."

Here's the Sacramento Bee: "Rivals open fire on actor," which makes up in cliches what is lacks in proper nouns.

Other papers are opting for just "Arnold."

Here's the Los Angeles Daily News: "Arnold's team shows actor's income tax files ."
And when the Daily News need to fit both the leading Democrat, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamente (10 letters) and Schwarzenegger into a hed it went with: "It's Cruz vs. Arnold (plus 132 wannabes) ."

Here's the Orange County Register: "Arnold wears bull's-eye," which not only reduces Schwarzenegger to the familiar but also, like the Sacramento Bee hed above, marks him for termination. You've been erased, Arnold.

I thought that maybe the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, a tiny paper with what could be the longest name in the state - 18 letters and a hyphen, would be more sympathetic to Schwarzenegger's pumped-up surname, but befitting the WR-P's size its recent election coverage is limited to a feature on a local factory owner who's on the recall ballot.

Certainly, any of us who have had to squeeze the essence of a story into a 1-48-4 can empathize with the rimrat who wrote "Actor has poor voting record" in today's S.F. Chronicle (which, to be fair, did have "Schwarzenegger" in the deck), but should some candidates be treated differently in headlines just because their names are longer than others?

Will we see a headline that says "Columnist enters recall race" about Arianna Huffington (10 letters) or "Entrepreneur challenges governor" about Peter Ueberroth (9 letters), who is usually described as "former baseball commissioner," a very unfriendly headline term.

Fair is fair. Despite his celebrity (which does breed familiarity, which, in turn, has its own breeding habit), if Schwarzenegger is going to be "Arnold" then the governor should be "Gray." And Arnold's going to be described by his job, then so should the others be - "Politician fights recall."

But this is a policy issue or a dictate of layout. Until either changes, headline writers must continue to cram a three-column name into one.

George Martin, a copy editor extraordinaire at the old San Francisco Examiner, expressed the plight of the rimrat in "The Copy Editor's Lament." It begins:

I was sitting on the copydesk
just watching o'er the scene
when the dealer sent a juicy
story over to my screen.
It had power, sex and politics and violence - it was great;
and the headline on the dummy said:
- 6 column 48.

Read the rest here.

 George Martin The Copy Editor's Lament

Posted by Tim Porter at August 12, 2003 08:53 AM