Sunday, July 08, 2007

On Plunging Buses And K-heds

From The TO Sun's Sunday Sunflashes:


JAKARTA -- A speeding bus carrying junior high school students and their teachers plunged into a 10-metre deep ravine on Indonesia's main island of Java yesterday, killing 14 people. Of 48 others who were hospitalized, 26 were in critical condition.

Sad news, but interesting in that the "bus plunge story" is in fact an acknowledged journalistic sub-genre, a type of "K-hed" or shirt filler story, from the old days before newspaper layout was done by computer:

The stories made the news not because of their perceived newsworthiness, but because copy editors could edit the details into a few lines and use them to fill gaps in the page layout.

From Jack Schafer's terrific article on the topic:

No matter what their editorial policies, newspapers of the era had a physical need for short articles. Typesetting was still a time-consuming industrial art, with craftsmen pouring molten metal into molds—"hot type"—to form a newspaper's words, sentences, and paragraphs. Because the length of a news story couldn't be calculated precisely until type was set, makeup editors would have to physically cut overlong pieces from the bottom to make them fit. If a story ran short, they would plug the hole with brief filler stories typeset earlier in the day.

Shafer gives some of the rules of the genre, such as the number of dead must be noted, in addition to the general location of the crash within the country where the crash occured ("Indonesia's main island of Java...).

Furthermore, the "whiter" the victims, the more space likely to be given the accident:

"A hundred Pakistanis going off a mountain in a bus make less of a story than three Englishmen drowning in the Thames." By and large, if an American plunged on a bus, the news was always more likely to run as a free-standing story in a U.S. newspaper than as filler.

Interestingly enough, while Shafer laments the decline of the "Bus Plunge Story", the wires still carry them, and you see them about once a month in The Sun. I suppose there is always a certain amount of "waste space" in a modern newspaper that has to be filled with words of one sort or another.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

and now we have the "global warming crisis" story to replace it.

nothing new . . . they just gotta sell advert space.

so the real question . . is Al Gore's eco-footprint bigger or smaller than Texas ??

Hypocrisy, thy name is Gore.

Or Madonna or any of the other twits who performed in Gore's multistage circus yesterday.