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.
Trump-a-palooza continued this week and saw the White House race MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow to publicize the president’s 2005 tax information. According to the report, Trump made more than $150 million in 2005 and paid $38 million in taxes on that income. The White House reported the information just minutes before Maddow went on air with the documents, which were originally obtained by journalist David Cay Johnston. The origins of the controversy surrounding Trump’s taxes began when he refused to publicize his returns during his campaign, which broke a 40-year tradition in the American federal election.
There’s not much to see in Donald Trump’s 2005 taxes (Toronto Star)
President paid $38m in 2005, leaked document reveals (The Guardian)
As with most Trump-related headlines, these three present a clear view into each newsroom, their perspectives on the president, and how they cover him. With its realistic and rigid headline, the Star, known for fact-checking Trump throughout his campaign during the early days of his administration—along with some analysis—stayed true to form. It leapt past the raw numbers and pointed out that the two pages of tax information made public, ultimately, revealed very little. By inference, the Star wanted to deliver the news and avoid hyping the revelation, even if it had to do some thinking on the reader’s behalf.
The Sun and Guardian provide contrast. The Sun opts to provoke rather than just report by perpetuating the White House-versus-the-media narrative. The Guardian, which live-blogged the run-up and revealing of the documents, took the opposite approach. Instead of editorializing or inserting a hot take into the hed, it opted for a basic who-what-when news headline—just the facts, basically. It’s dry, but given the current political climate, and assuming even a bit of foreknowledge on readers’ parts, it’s enticing enough.
Notably, none of these headlines throwback to Trump’s refusal to release his tax documentation during the election which—to be frank—is still shocking.