The dangers of automatically truncating headlines

What’s the difference between losing a football recruit due to sex versus due to a sex offender?

Apparently, ESPN Cleveland doesn’t see a big difference. Below is what ESPN.com is reporting on their website about Ohio State losing a football recruit do to a sex offender being able to take a photo with the recruit (the recruit did not know the person was a sex offender and wasn’t pleased that Ohio State doesn’t take better precautions to prevent sex offenders from having content with college and high school students):

Since this story is about Ohio State, ESPN Cleveland automatically picked up the headline and linked to espn.com’s story. The problem is that ESPN.com has more headline space to work with than ESPN Cleveland. Sometimes, cutting off a word can really change the entire meaning of a story. Take a look:

ESPN Cleveland’s headline is factually wrong. This story has nothing to do with a recruit having sex. It is about sex offenders having access to recruits.

Perhaps the weirdest part of this whole affair is all that white space on ESPNCleveland.com in their local news box. Look at all that white space just hanging out on the right side of that box. There is all the space in the world.

There is plenty of space for ESPNCleveland to use the same headlines as ESPN.com. I suspect the box that those headlines are in is using too aggressive of padding or margins in CSS from the right side of that box.

If you are going to automatically grab headlines, and you’re a news organization, you might want to think really hard about having a computer truncate a headline. You might just end up with a libelous and ridiculous headline.

While allowing headlines to go onto multiple lines doesn’t look as good, it at least allows for factually accurate headlines. When reporting news, function should come before form.