To this point in my career, every professional job I have held has included the responsibility of writing relevant, compelling and appropriate headlines for websites.
But if you can only have one of those three adjectives when writing a headline for the masses, you’d better choose “appropriate.”
Sometime around 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning, the headline to the right was spotted on ESPN.com’s mobile homepage, and it ran as the main headline for about 30 minutes. When morning came on the East Coast, the retweets of the screenshot began.
Even I indulged, posting it to my Facebook page. I got quite a few comments from shocked friends, and why not? It is shocking to see something like that on a major website’s homepage.
So from my ivory tower, here’s my opinion on headline mistakes, from one web editor to another:
It happens. But that can’t happen.
ESPN responded with an apology on Sunday, saying that they fired two people in the wake of the massive error. Now, I’ve never been to ESPN and I have no idea how their web team works, but I’m willing to bet that one person was at fault for the mistake, and the other person was that guy’s or girl’s boss.
There aren’t many websites in operation that have more than one person updating headlines, images and links at 2:30 in the morning (under normal conditions). So my guess is that a manager got that phone call nobody wants to get while they’re sound asleep in the middle of the night.
“Did you see the headline that’s on your website right now?”
I guess you could argue that the manager should have trained his editor on better headline writing, but isn’t that something that should be common knowledge? I’ve received guidance on writing headlines in the past, but I’ve never had someone sit me down, hold my hand, and say, “Make sure you don’t write a racist headline.”
We’re all adults, and that should be understood. And while I might not know the entire list of events that led to this headline getting published for the world to see, I can say with complete confidence that this headline didn’t need the publishing click from two people to send it to the mobile page — one person hit “publish,” and it was the same person who thought it up and typed it.
So, if you want my honest opinion, I think ESPN fired one person too many.