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Hed: (n) Newsroom Jargon for Headlines

Headlines are tricky. They have to grab flighty readers’ attention, tell a story, and hopefully even squeeze in a witticism. The smallest choices affect readers’ first impressions and, sometimes, their only take on the story. Once a week, we analyze the different ways news outlets present the same story.

The Tale:

On Tuesday, actor and former WWE wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.

The Heds:

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Is the First Man of Color in 20 Years to be People’s Sexiest Man Alive” (Yahoo Style)

Will Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson be the ‘sexiest president alive’?” (Toronto Star)

People’s 2016 Sexiest Man Alive is none other than Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who credits exfoliating for his attractiveness” (National Post)

The Take:

The conversation about who People considers the Sexiest Man Alive may seem like a frivolous one, but do you know what People’s circulation is? Forty-three million. And you don’t have to subscribe to the magazine to be exposed to its images or headlines; by Tuesday night, it seems like the majority of the Western world had seen The Rock’s cover. Sure, it’s fluffy, but it’s too big to exempt from critical analysis. People transmits messages to a lot of people about what’s worth talking about, whose stories are worth telling, and yes, about who may or may not be considered sexy. Since the series began in 1985 with Mel Gibson (of all people), the first and last non-white man to be included was Denzel Washington in 1996. The fact that Johnson is only the second man of colour to be included in over 20 years, and so few of us noticed, is something we should be paying much more attention to.

This week’s headlines took different perspectives on the Rock’s coronation. Yahoo’s is the only one to explicitly note the 20 years of white Sexiest Men Alive, and the genuine cultural impact of People elevating the people’s champion to the throne. The Star’s headline focused on another aspect of the People story: the Rock says he’s considering a career in politics. He spoke at the 2000 Republican National Convention and used to jokingly talk about entering politics, but now he feels that “anything can happen”—not unreasonable given last week’s election. Coming out of left field—or off the top ropes—is the Post, which highlighted exfoliation. Not exactly hard-hitting analysis, but hey, given how great The Rock’s skin is, no doubt many people are wondering.

So let’s pay attention to the cultural messages we receive. Frivolous or not, Sexiest Man Alive is an institution, and the men represented on the cover should be representative of our world, in this time and place. In a year that’s been so dominated by fear and disaster, The Rock is exactly where he should be.