Writing headlines for news items is an art and I am often impressed at how they manage to capture in a very few words the essence of the story. In the case of the death of a famous person, you have even less discretionary space because you have to give the person’s name and often their age, leaving very little room to describe what they were famous for. It gets even worse when they were famous for two things: one good and one bad. How do you balance the two? While the obituaries themselves are written well in advance of death, the headline may not be and you have very little time to come up with one.
So pity the poor person at the BBC assigned to write a headline for the death of Phil Spector. Spector had an immense impact as a pop music producer but also murdered a woman and died in prison.
The first headline was:
“Talented but flawed producer Phil Spector dies aged 81”
It was quickly realized that being a murderer required stronger language than ‘flawed’.
So the headline was quickly replaced with:
“Pop producer jailed for murder dies at 81.”
The BBC has apologized for the first headline as “Not meeting our editorial standards.”