Bad BBC Headline

Here is one of those rare instances where the BBC messed up royally: in a story about self-immolation among Afghan women, the headline says exactly the opposite of what the government wants to do. Take a look:

BBC Headline FailA print newspaper’s front page headlines are complemented by striking images and bold typogrpaphy, but the headline writing rules for the web are slightly different. They’re supposed to be short (5-7 words) and still catchy so they stand out in a pile of text on the feed or screen of a user with a short attention span. The ultimate goal is to draw eyeballs, convert them to click-thrus and increase web traffic.

After holding off for years, the BBC recently decided to run ads on its website, hoping to generate  £70m annually from ad revenue in the midst of chronic funding problems that resulted in programming and job cuts for several years running. For a service so clearly in trouble — and one that competes for clicks with a bevy of free news websites, social media platforms and blogs — the headline writers are likely feeling the pressure to write heds that drive traffic.

The mistake above could have been partly influenced by the same pressure, although it may well just be a faux pas from an overworked, sleepless headline writer whose editor likely never chanced to give the copy a second glance. (Could it be that the headline writer him/herself was the overworked, sleepless editor?)

Unlike the websites of CNN, FOX News or Wall Street Journal, the BBC website doesn’t allow for viewer comments directly on news stories, so it’s not hard for mistakes like this to go unnoticed. Many websites moderate comments, which means this would likely have come to the attention of the BBC sooner if it allowed comments. As of now, the headline has stood uncorrected for longer than a day.

One can only wonder when — if at all — someone at the BBC will notice this mistake while managing its vast cyber empire of websites.

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