Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Sometimes I can't resist the obvious

I'm sorry, I just have to observe that the headline on the front page of the Sun this morning was "I Had Two-Year Fling With Tiger", while the front page of the Mirror went with "My Three-Year Affair With Tiger". Both about the same woman, as far as I can see. Honestly, it's almost enough to shake my faith in the ability of tabloid newspapers to accurately report celebrity gossip.

I would love to know which paper gained the most sales from its headlines. Perhaps the Sun appealed to people who like Tiger Woods more, and who wanted to read the story that suggested he'd cheated on his wife for the shorter period of time, whereas the Mirror sold to the people who prefer Nick Faldo, and want the maximum possible infidelity from his rivals. The BBC News website, I notice, describes it as a 31-month affair. That's the kind of accuracy you get from a classy source like the BBC. It would be even more classy of them to concentrate on reporting the real news, rather than the celebrity adultery, but I suppose we can't have everything.

Ooh, but here's something I've only just learned about the BBC News website - did you know that all of its headlines are between 31 and 33 characters in length? I'm hugely impressed. That's so horribly restrictive, and yet they do it so naturally that I never noticed! It's because, apparently, 33 characters is the maximum that can fit on a line on Ceefax (and, apparently, the BBC website thinks that people still read Ceefax), and because someone somewhere calculated that the minimum possible to convey a good headline without looking abridged is 31 characters.

I mean, this is really brilliant. Look at the headlines right now: "Taliban defiant over Obama surge": 32 characters. "Yacht skipper speaks of 'mistake'": 33 characters. "Woods admits letting family down": 32 characters. There are some really talented writers at the BBC! Tragically, though, the powers that beeb have just heard of the concept of search engine optimisation, so now when you click on the 31-33-character headlines, you go through to the story page and find it's got a longer headline featuring as many keywords as possible. Perhaps soon they'll allow Ceefax to fade into the history books and those headline-compressors will be out of a job. I wonder what they'd do if Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink cheated on his wife? He's got 22 characters just in his surname. 23, because you'd have to leave a space after it.


Florian Dellé said...

Sorry Ben, but with 36 characters in your title you will not be accepted as a BBC News writer. You are doomed to memorize cards and numbers for eternity!

Geoff said...

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink cheats?