If It Bleeds, It Leads — To Reuters’ Absurdity

It was a clear-cut case of self-defense.

And Reuters blew it.


Imagine you’re a headline writer and a story reaches your desk that a Palestinian has infiltrated settlement farm in the Hebron Hills and stabbed an Israeli man in front of his horrified family. The victim managed to shoot the terrorist, who was subsequently pronounced dead by medics. The victim, thankfully, was only lightly wounded.

Ynet describes how the attack went down:

A preliminary investigation found that the terrorist entered the farm, and that after the settler heard noises coming from the outside, he exited his house and noticed the terrorist holding two knives. The settler then ran home to retrieve a gun, with the terrorist in hot pursuit. Both men reached the settler’s home, where the terrorist proceeded to stab him before his wife and children. The settler then shot and killed the terrorist.

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As a headline writer, you take your job seriously. You know why headlines matter.

So what kind of headline would you write?

The story is that a Palestinian tried to kill an Israeli. That’s obvious. Maybe you’d write a headline like this:


However, there’s a culture in your newsroom — perhaps even specific guidelines — that whenever there’s a terror attack, you emphasize the death, not the actions or intent that led to it. Even if it the only person who died was the terrorist himself.

It’s a thin moral veneer for the news adage, “If it bleeds, it leads,” which itself tends to rationalize sensationalism over sensibility.

So you play around with different wordings, alternating between active and passive voice, words of varying length and nuance. You do this under a certain pressure because there are plenty more articles in the pipeline waiting for you, and you don’t want higher-ups asking questions about why you’re holding up a story.

But you can breath easier if you’re working for Reuters because offensive headline fails like this pass muster.


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