Just because I nearly came close to doing the same thing when I was a brand new deppitty sherf, the headline of an AP story this morning caught my eye.

"Officer Wrecks Squad Car 20 Minutes into Job."

The A.P story, however, didn't match the headline. Turns out the car was parked in the hapless officer's own driveway when some goofball who "tested positive for drugs" ran into it and then hit a tree. The now car-less copper was not behind the wheel.

Reminds me of a story I reported several years ago. A woman was murdered in her home. Police actively hunted throughout the neighborhood for her killer and found him hiding under a house nearby. My anchor teased the story with, "Police managed to find a murderer today..." Like the officers had been sitting in a donut shop when the guy strolled in.

No wonder cops hate reporters. No wonder why a large percentage of the news-consuming public doesn't trust the media. The message is being managed so it best catches the eye. Accuracy? Pfffft!

Let's look at it in wider scope. How much of our country's financial nightmare is being caused by headlines that don't match the stories and, more important, stories that don't quite match the facts?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a stock market expert. My economic forecasts will never make Maria Bartiromo's knees quiver. My checkbook is balanced only because Quicken, in Garrett Morris' eternal words, "been berry berry good to me."

But, damnit, I know hype when I see it. I recognize the symptoms of a media frenzy.

Every day we're bombarded with messages that encourage us to panic.

"Gas prices shoot higher than...", "Cars abandoned; more people walking and biking as gas prices rise..."

"Stomach wrenching drop to Dow."

I was waiting for comparisons to 1929 and they finally started a few weeks ago. "Worst month for stocks since the Depression."

Just as I'm not a financial guru, I'm also not the poster boy for a positive attitude. I realize we're seeing a, and let me turn on the pompous announcer voice, "significant economic downturn." Anticipating that my days spent in front of a keyboard are numbered, I've been practicing my Wal-Mart greeter smile and watching how the best shopping-cart-wranglers do their job. And, just in case it gets worse than that, I've got my spoon and a big bowl ready for the soup lines.

But, c'mon people, do we have to opt for headlines and stories that are written to terrify? As if the gas station price boards and the signs over produce carts and in the meat aisle don't depress us enough.

Each time the national media hypes the disappearance of civilization (and Starbucks) as we know it, we edge ever closer to the End Times.

Come to think of it, that's not a bad name for a newspaper I could start when we're all living in tunnels. After the stock market crashes and the asteroid hits.

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Comment by Doug M. Cummings on July 22, 2008 at 7:24am
A friend at the Chicago Tribune told me today that they have begun hiring the cheapest people from the talent pool and that editors are regularly having to re-write entire articles submitted by these "reporters."
Of course, the Trib is supposed to be laying off 70 people this week so probably some of those editors will have other things to worry about.
Of course, the Trib is
Comment by Sue Dawson on July 22, 2008 at 6:34am
It seems to me that I would want to get my facts printed correctly. Is it that the almighty dollar is the most important criterion in our society? I was taught by my parents that people come first and that honesty was paramount no matter what the circumstances. I know that honest people are not always treated fairly, but they do sleep well at night.
Comment by Doug M. Cummings on July 18, 2008 at 5:41am
Nope, headlines aren't written by the reporter, at least not on major papers.
Anchor leads on TV and radio are also seldom written by either the anchor or the reporter whose package (story) is featured.
Lots of mistakes are made because the actual writers could care less what is printed or read on the air.
Comment by Sue Dawson on July 18, 2008 at 1:23am
A long time ago when I was in grade school, I was told by a teacher that a headline on a newspaper article was not written by the writer. That comment always stuck in my mind.

When I was 11, my father, a railroad fireman, was hurt in a train wreck where his engineer was killed because he had jumped out a window and was caught by the oil tank. The Portland Oregonian reported that my father had jumped. I learned then to take all news stories with "a grain of salt,"my father's expression. That includes headlines.

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