Don’t you just cringe when you see a bad headline and lede (newspaper lingo for first paragraph)? Take for example a story about a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb.
The Pentagon sent out the official announcement after the family was notified. The newspaper had already been informed by a family member and a story was generated before the Pentagon’s notice hit the wires.
Here’s a partial from the Pentagon announcement:
Spc. Jordan C. Schumann, 24, of Port Saint Lucie, Fla. was killed along with Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Throckmorton, 28, of Battle Creek Mich. and Spc. Preston J. Suter, 22, Sandy, Utah were killed when their vehicle rolled over a land mine. They died July 5 in Paktia province, Afghanistan. The soldiers were assigned to the 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, Hohenfels, Germany.
Headlines about Schumann’s death were up online within a few hours:
- Port St. Lucie soldier killed in Afghanistan — Miami Herald
- Soldier from Port St. Lucie killed in Afghanistan — Orlando Sentinel
- IED claims life of suburban Port St. Lucie soldier (Local soldier killed) — Palm Beach Post
- Port St. Lucie soldier dies in Afghanistan — WPTV Channel 5 News (Palm Beach)
Then you have the paper in Port St. Lucie:
- Army soldier, a former Port St. Lucie resident, dies in Afghanistan — Port St. Lucie News.
The lede reads: Fun-loving, a free spirit, and caring are how family and friends described a U.S. Army soldier, a former resident of Port St. Lucie, who was killed Tuesday in a bombing in Afghanistan.
“Bombing” is incorrect. That would mean a bomb was dropped from an aircraft killed Schumann and the others. Instead, it was the blast from a roadside bomb that killed them.
I asked the editor why former was used, pointing out that the Pentagon said he was from Port St. Lucie. The editor said, “It may be, but he was living in Germany.”
I’ve gone through more than 200 headlines and ledes announcing the recent deaths of military personnel killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not one refers to the deceased as formerly living in a hometown. Certainly none of them referred to their base as their home.
The editor is incorrect. To follow the logic, Schumann didn’t live in Germany either. He lived in Afghanistan in some forward base, and the editor would have to write every headline and clear every lede with that in mind. And what about sailors stationed onboard ships? If a sailor is killed in an accident, the editor would have to follow the faulty logic and write “Seaman First Class John Smith, formerly of Port St. Lucie, who lived on USS Princeton.”
I’m sure if Schumann used an absentee ballot to vote, His name is going to show up at St. Lucie County Registrar of Voters with a Port St. Lucie domicile — not in Germany nor Afghanistan.
When the Pentagon notice comes out and reads “John Smith of Tyler, Texas,” that’s his hometown. When they say “Smith was based in Schofield Barracks,” Hawaii, that’s where he was based. In a few instances, the Pentagon will say “Jack Jones of Fort Benning, Ga.” In that case, the soldier indeed lived on base or in the town of Fort Benning.
Editors, take a lesson from the venerable Stars and Stripes that has been writing these unfortunate announcements since 1942.
Three Germany-based U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan
Stars and Stripes
Published: July 7, 2011
BAMBERG, Germany — Three Hohenfels-based soldiers were killed Tuesday in Paktia province, Afghanistan, the Defense Department announced Thursday.
Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Throckmorton, 28, of Battle Creek, Mich.; Spc. Jordan C. Schumann, 24, of Port St. Lucie, Fla. and Spc. Preston J. Suter, 22, of Sandy, Utah, were killed Tuesday when enemy forces attacked their unit with a makeshift bomb, according to the DOD news release.
The soldiers were assigned to the 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command in Hohenfels.
That’s how you write the headline and the lede.
Follow-up Editor’s note: Schumann was buried July 22, 2011 in his hometown of Port St. Lucie, Fla.