When I started in journalism — back when cavemen and Terry Mattingly roamed the earth — reporters at major newspapers typically didn't write their own headlines.
They'd file their story to an assigning editor, who would give it a first read, ask questions, make revisions and eventually ship it down the line, either to another assigning editor or to the copy desk. It was not unusual for a handful of editors to handle a story — particularly a major one — before it hit the press and landed on readers' driveways before sunup.
The copy desk — often late at night — would check for grammar, spelling and Associated Press style errors. And at some point, a slot editor would place the story on a page with a headline that could be any number of lines and columns, depending on the ads around it.
Before the days of easy fixes online, the copy editors saved reporters from egregious and embarrassing mistakes in smelly black ink. But yes, sometimes, those same editors — under deadline pressure — came up with headlines that were, um, less than representative of what the story actually said.
So a common defense of the writer class to headline fails was: "Reporters don't write their own headlines." In other words, don't blame us!
Is that still true? In the web-first age, do writers still depend on editors to craft their headlines? In some cases, yes. But in general, it varies. So I have no idea who wrote the headline on the USA Today story I want to highlight today.
But I will say this: The newspaper's story on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (click here if you somehow have no idea what I'm talking about) is interesting and informative.
The headline? Not so much:
Same-sex marriage foes stick together despite long odds
That's not really what the story is about.