Are headlines asking ‘is [x] dead’ in fact dead?

Is blogging dead? Is photojournalism dead? Is journalism dead? Is this brand of cameraphone dead? Are these type of headlines or questions in articles dead?

Only the last question can be answered with: “Not yet, but I bloody well hope so soon, although I don’t see it happening.” And all but the last question are headlines and opening paragraphs I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, both in blogs and in print. And they all depress me.

A wiser man than me [1] once commented that if a tabloid newspaper poses a question in the headline, it can usually be answered with a simple “No”. The same’s generally true for any headline or article that starts asking if [x] is dead.

If you’re asking the question, chances are you’re not quite sure about the demise, in which case the answer is no. Unless you can well and truly prove beyond doubt that we’re dealing with a corpse here and not just a sick industry or product.

If the topic of discussion is actually dead, chances are you’ll be writing an obituary or a fond (or not so fond) look back over the life and times.

Asking “is x dead” is just plain lazy (or just done to get a reaction, which in my mind makes it a slightly more sophisticated form of trolling) and a shorthand way of confirming the writer’s prejudices in one quick line. Do I need to read on? No.

There’s more creative and accurate ways to ask if an industry or product is dying. Asking us something we already know the answer to isn’t one of them [2].

[1] For which, read as “I can’t remember who”.

[2] Although when this discussion was posted on Twitter, Jim Anthony had to be a pain and ask if VHS was dead (a recent Guardian blog). Gary 0 Jimbo 1. He’s always been rather good at disproving my theories.


5 Responses to “Are headlines asking ‘is [x] dead’ in fact dead?”

  1. 1 Kerry Gaffney November 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Aparently there are two types of people in the world. Those that believe there are two types of people in the world, and those that don’t. Headlines that ask is whatever dead play to both those groups, those who’ll passionately agree and those who passionately disagree. In terms of blog writing it is like shooting fish in a barrel. Actually its more like throwing a stick of lit dynamite in the barrel as fishing would indicate making a bit of effort.

    Must say I am very tempted to now write a post with the title ‘X is merely resting’

  2. 2 Hannah November 10, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    The person you should have footnoted for [1] is Andrew Marr, and he said it in My Trade: A History of British Journalism.

    Although if you’ve never read that, maybe he nicked it off someone else. Or had it nicked off him…

  3. 3 Gary Andrews November 11, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Hmm, you learn something every day, although I’ve not read Marr’s book, so he’s definitely got it from elsewhere. I think. I’m not sure. Maybe’s it’s just a popular saying that journalism teachers tell their students. Who knows?

    If it’s not copyrighted, I might have a go at claiming it… :p

  1. 1 Rethinking the embargo « Gary Andrews Trackback on November 12, 2008 at 11:58 pm
  2. 2 Rethinking the embargo | Gary AndrewsGary Andrews Trackback on April 22, 2014 at 10:17 pm

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November 2008

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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