WILLIAM BOOTH AGAINST WESTERN LEADER

Case Number: 2564

Council Meeting: MARCH 2017

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Western Leader

Ruling Categories: Headlines and Captions

Overview

William Booth complains the Western Leader breaches Principle 6 (Headlines & Captions) by using an unfair online headline which didn’t properly reflect the content of the story, or his son, who the story was about.

The complaint is not upheld.

Background

Community newsroom Western Leader ran a story - in print and online - about the success of local man Aaron Booth at the men’s decathlon open at the Queensland Combined Events Championships in Australia.

The story was angled on and included much detail about Mr Booth’s success coming despite injury in his lead-up to the event.

Mr Booth was quoted in the story, including the comment: “I’m more than happy with how I went. I wasn’t expecting much going into it, I wasn’t even 100 per cent fit”.

The digital version of the story featured a headline that was part of the same quote: “I wasn’t even 100 per cent fit”.

The print version featured a different headline: “Booth wins Gold at Queensland event”.

The story followed a press release being forwarded to the Western Leader by Mr Booth’s family.

There is some dispute over the relevance of the length of the headline. Mr Booth questioned why, if the digital version was shorter than the print version, it couldn’t simply be lengthened. The news director suggested the favoured headline was the digital one, and was too short to fill the fixed print space allocated.

Additionally, there is no agreement on who ended a phone call about the complaint between the news director and the complainant.

The Complaint

Mr Booth and his wife were shocked and embarrassed by the online headline, which they felt implied their son was arrogant. They say their son agreed it was bad and their complaint is on his behalf.

According to the Booths’ complaint, the reporter apologised for the online headline, and pointed out the longer print version.

Using only part of Aaron Booth’s quote in the headline meant the quote was used out of context.

Mr Booth sought to have the online version changed to match the print headline but his request was denied. He then, also unsuccessfully, sought to have the whole story removed.

Both the reporter and the editor refused to change the headline and, following a formal letter of complaint from Mr Booth, a ‘condescending response’ from theLeader’s news director was received.

The Response

Leader news director Rebecca Stevenson said the headline was chosen from within the quotes as it summed up the key event in the story; it fairly and accurately reflected the most interesting angle.

It was hoped the headline would also draw the audience in to read more.

The Leader did not think the headline was either used out of context, or reflected badly on Aaron Booth. In fact, it showed he could overcome adversity and still achieve great results.

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The Decision

The Council accepts the space allocated for a print headline determines its length, ie it cannot be so long that it cuts off, or so short that it leaves unnecessary blank space.

And the Council accepts that digital headlines are not bound by space, but instead written to both properly reflect the story and to draw the audience in.

It isn’t possible for the Council to determine who ended the phone call between the complainant and the news director, and nor is it relevant to the specific Principle being argued in the complaint.

It is, however, worth reminding all senior editorial staff that complainants warrant respect and should be dealt with courteously.

In regard to the substantive complaint, the headline, while brief, was not inaccurate and it fairly reflected the strongest angle of the story.

The complaint is not upheld.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Chris Darlow, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Jenny Farrell, Marie Shroff, Mark Stevens, Vernon Small and Tim Watkin.