The “headline party” does a school stampede


Shanxi Evening News, November 30, 2010

At around noon yesterday, forty-one schoolchildren were injured in a stampede in a stairwell at the No. 5 Primary School in Aksu, Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

The front page of today’s Shanxi Evening News shows an illustration of the incident, during which the force of the crowd bent the bars of the railing, with an inset photo of the injured students.

The headline is straightforward: “At a primary school in Aksu, Xinjiang, a stampede injures 41.”

By contrast, the Jianghuai Morning News (whose front page only mentioned the incident in a sidebar) took advantage of the fact that the students were headed downstairs for exercise to headline its full-page story with a vulgar pun: “Exercise: Of course you’ve got to do it, but you can’t crowd!” The character for “exercise” 操 (cāo) is also used, when pronounced slightly differently (cào), for “fuck.”


Jianghuai Morning News, November 30, 2010 (A25)

Editors who pick outrageous headlines for news stories are said to be members of the “headline party” (标题党). Internet news portals, which are generally restricted to republishing the same articles from the mainstream press as their competitors, adopted the practice of picking the most salacious detail, no matter how insignificant, out of a story for use in an eye-catching headline.

The technique is not without controversy, and newspapers that step too far outside the bounds of good taste may face a backlash from readers. Perhaps that is why the Jianghuai Morning News has already removed the page from its online edition.

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