This teaser headline tells us that a “famous author” was remembered.
The deck tells us that he wrote a “famous novel.”
The headline on the story itself tells us that the author was “legendary.”
So what do these headlines tell us?
Yes, of course, we find out that someone famous died. In this case, that was J.D. Salinger.
Really, though, what they say is that the headline writer had no knowledge of J.D. Salinger or “Catcher in the Rye.” And when names mean nothing, you lean on the squishy adjectives that the story provided: famous, legendary, and the like.
In other words, these headlines shouted ignorance.
My point here is not to belittle someone for ignorance of J.D. Salinger. None of us can know everything about everything, and we constantly read, hear, see or even edit things about topics we know little or nothing about.
When we choose to remain in the dark, though; when we choose to hide behind the adjectives rather than to look things up, educate ourselves and to make reasoned, rational decisions – that’s when ignorance melds into laziness. If we aren’t careful, ignorance whispers so seductively that soon we fail to notice the generalities and the vague expressions and the jargon and the vapid quotations , and we assume that’s the way we should write, the way we should think.
Don’t let that happen.
In this case, we could have taken some cues from the placement and the content of the story. If we were publishing this on the front page, someone realized that Salinger was an important literary figure. That alone should have been a clue:
J.D. Salinger remembered
If we didn’t think our audience would recognize the name immediately, we could have used the title of the book in the headline:
‘Catcher in the Rye’ author dies or ‘Catcher’ author remembered
When in doubt, ask your colleagues.
One more thing: The headlines for the story shout ignorance, but this cutline screams sloppiness. It is full of obvious typos, and it makes no sense. Salinger is meeting with Elaine Joyce to see her performance? Nah.