POSTSCRIPT / February 27, 2022 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Looks more ‘when’ than ‘if’ BBM wins?

One of our readers told us that the head of our column of Feb. 22 that said “‘Goodbye to hidden wealth, if BBM wins” should have read “… when BBM wins”.

The issue will be hanging in the air till May 9, but here’s the rest of the email of Mr. Rocky Martin: “Why? Umaasa pa ba kayo Leni? Besides wala naman ‘hidden’ wealth eh, mga dilawan lang naman ang nagpipilit sa narrative na yan. 60 percent of the electorate don’t buy that.

“If there is, then why couldn’t the yellows put them in jail after 35 years of looking for proof.

Ganyan talaga kasi umiikot ang panahon, the yellows had their chance but blew it. Now it’s the Marcoses turn again. Ok lang yan, basta happy ang majority, (kami yun) Di ba?

“Peace and stay safe.”

I emailed Mr. Martin back: “Thanks for the feedback. ‘…when BBM wins’ was actually what I had in mind saying in my column’s head. But ‘when’ – which is several characters longer than “if” – did not fit in the second deck.

“I could have rewritten the entire head but I could not produce very close to deadline a substitute to fit the allotted fixed space and still capture the ‘when BBM wins’ sense. (Actually, it’s still subject to speculation since nobody knows for sure if/when BBM will win).

“By design, the heads of my columns are always two-deckers. I go by that style because the head happens to be at the top of the page. I’ve gotten used to laying out news pages where there is a graduation of font sizes — the heads at the top visually heavier than the ones below.”

I explained to him that if I changed “if” to “when” the second deck would have stretched to ‘wealth, when BBM wins’, which is too long. The excess word ‘wins’ would then go to a third deck — which makes the layout worse.

* * *

It occurred to me to use Mr. Martin’s email to share some points about writing heads. Most readers will probably find it boring, but I’ll take that risk just so I don’t waste this chance to provide a peek into an aspect of the work of deskmen, artists, and editors.

Also, as one of the active seniors of the trade (who often feel awkward calling ourselves journalists because we are simply reporters to the core), I saw this as a chance to review some of the lessons I’ve learned on the beat and at the desk.

When we started our careers decades ago, text (including heads) was being cast in molten lead. Every character or word on every line must be perfectly in its assigned place as the metal cooled.

Everything sent to typesetting must have been carefully counted as there is no chance to correct any error except by resetting it. We did not always have to count the characters, because in time we learned to guesstimate if a word or even the whole headline would fit.

With computers and applications for various typesetting situations available these days, if a word or line does not fit, the artist composing the page can just enlarge or reduce it to cram it in – unlike when the text was cast in lead.

That may explain why many sophomoric publications end up with a smorgasbord of various fonts as everybody tries the new tools. This makes their tabloids look more like a catalog of types than a collection of stories.

“Story” in this discussion, btw, is a generic pressroom term referring to news, features, columns, editorials, essays, and such pieces. Everything is a “story” – in the same way that in broadcast media, everything (an interview, debate, a songfest, video clip, etc.) is a “show”.

In many publishing outfits, writers and reporters are expected to suggest a head (never call it a “title”) for their stories. Most of the heads are replaced by editors and deskmen, but some manage to slip through looking modified.

* * *

You may not have noticed it, but the heads of my “Postscript” columns are always two-deckers. That’s by design.

In writing the head, I try to catch the casual browser, tell the story quickly using two full decks while making sure the first deck is not left hanging. Writing one-word tags for heads or casting one-liner heads is kid stuff.

After years of laying out news pages, I’ve grown more comfortable seeing heads near the top looming larger than those below. This looks logical in the tall pages that invariably have the more significant news displayed near the top with bigger heads.

In laying out a news page, I usually start with the major photo of the day, flaunting it prominently above the fold to serve as the focal point around which the page will be built. If that picture is related to the top story, they can be played together.

An editor is lucky to be working with a topnotch artist with editorial sense. Their collaboration makes it easier for everybody, including the reader.

Pardon my digressing to page layout in my desire to explain my always using a two-deck head for my column on this page.

In my case, there is an extra requirement: Since I use the same head on my ManilaMail personal website, my PhilSTAR head must be written in such a way that it displays properly when my column on my website is accessed on a smartphone.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 27, 2022)

Dear Sir Pascual, It is sad that the EDSA Revolt did not pan out as hoped. Sure there are improvements but there are more backsliding than advances. Personally, BBM is abiding by the advice a good lawyer-friend once told me (which is a flaw in many Asian cultures) — even if caught red-handed, deny until death. Saving face (and family honor) is the most important — more than the truth, what is right, and and the common good.

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