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'Obamacare' Headline Reveals that People Do Read the Newspaper and Care What It Says

Proof that journalism, even newspaper journalism, still matters: This Miami Herald article about readers' complaints that the word 'Obamacare' is a "pejorative" with partisan connotations.

The Miami Herald changed the recent headline, "Obamacare arrives Thursday," to "Obama-led healthcare arrives Thursday" after many readers filed complaints and the paper agreed that the headline may not have been the best choice.

Sylvan Seidenman of Miami told the Miami Herald, "The term `Obamacare' has never been anything but a term used by detractors, ignoring the long and tortuous path the legislation followed, and the many compromises the president and Democrats had to make to ensure passage of the bill.''

A thinking, intelligent public that values traditional newspaper journalism still exists! Lately, after rounds of layoffs and shrinking newspapers, it's as though people who value news should be in the Diet Dr. Pepper "I Exist Support Group" commercial. So, thank you, Miami Herald readers, for setting a fine example of an engaged public -- now, if you want to be extra-specially charitable, subscribe to your local papers instead of reading them for free online (papers' fault, not yours).

In his article about the correction, Miami Herald Ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos writes:

These dilemmas are highlighted by the fact that the article in question wasn't political at all. It was a Sunday page one, consumer-friendly feature for readers as the first part of the new healthcare law was about to go into effect. The full headline was: "Obamacare here Thursday . . . Here's what to expect.''

What the issue does point out is the power of headlines, the dangers we all face over being politically manipulated by word usage and the inexact science of deciding when a term has entered the popular lexicon and is acceptable.

Schumacher-Matos's article explains that the task of headline writing usually falls on the night editor, a job that was at one time shared among several people. The person in this high-responsibility position makes final decisions on article placement and pens headlines under deadline pressure. When you think about it, it's impressive that worse mistakes aren't made more often.

Casey Frank, a 30-year veteran of the paper who was spared during the its rounds of layoffs,  wrote the 'Obamacare' headline.

"The reason I used it was because from where I sit as an observer of the news, the healthcare bill was the president's main priority in the first year of his presidency and, for better or worse, was his signature accomplishment,'' Frank told Schumacher-Matos.

This example reveals a rare peek into the pressures of working in the post-layoff newspaper industry and all that that implies, as well as an optimistic glimpse at a still-reading and thinking public. Mull it over.

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Leslie Minora

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