Readers don’t usually realize it, but reporters rarely write their own headlines. Headline writers and/or editors write a headline that fits the space and captures the essence of the article, but the reporter usually gets the credit or the blame.
In This is Spinal Tap, David St. Hubbins (played by Michael McKean) says, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” It’s meant to be a ridiculous statement, but when it comes to headlines he’s actually correct.
A lot of what headline writers think is clever is really just cliched. For example, read an article about online doctor/patient messaging and you’re likely to see it headlined by some version of “Take Two Aspirins and Email Me in the Morning” or “The Doctor will Email You Now.”
What got me started on this subjct was another clever/stupid headline in the Atlanta Constitution:
Concierge medicine: Rx for stressed health care system?
(By the way, saying something is an “Rx” is also a classic headline writer’s device when talking about health care policy. It also has the advantage of being short.)
The only positive thing about the headline is the question mark. Concierge medicine helps individual doctors and patients but it’s definitely not good for the health care system. Physicians who convert to concierge practices reduce the supply of primary care, which is already constrained. That’s not an “Rx,” but perhaps a “prescribing error.”
To its credit, the article presents a balanced view. It even mentions one of my favorite observations about concierge practices: that there’s less demand for them than you’d expect. Concierge doctors aren’t even able to fill the limited number of patient slots they make available. As I’ve mentioned, I’m neither surprised nor disappointed about that.November 9, 2007