It was a Friday morning, and I was putting the finishing touches on a manuscript about NBA star Kevin Durant. This was for a youth publication -- 9,000 or so well-crafted words geared toward high school-aged kids.
It was for a series of books being written about the Golden State Warriors’ triumphant 2016-17 season, in which they defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA Championship. Durant’s story was of particular interest. He was already an established superstar last summer when he signed a free-agent contract to join the Warriors, who had already been to two straight NBA Finals without him, winning it all in 2015.
Durant received plenty of criticism for signing with Golden State, but he played through it, helped his new team recapture the title, and was named MVP of the Finals.
Anyway, I was just browsing the web in search of some information for one last sidebar when I came across the following headline:
Kevin Durant recants Golden State Warriors’ season, title run in new video
The longest chapter in my manuscript is all about “that championship season.” All that work I put into detailing the events that led to winning the title … Durant is disavowing it?
How was this not front-page news?
Of course, a quick perusal of the article confirmed what I really thought: The person who wrote that headline doesn’t know what “recant” means.
From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Recant: to withdraw or repudiate (a statement or belief) formally and publicly
The Warriors’ season and title run doesn’t qualify as a statement or belief, so the headline wouldn’t make sense even if there were some weird, negative angle. No, it was simply a story about this video in which Durant was looking back on last season.
Yes, that’s what the headline was supposed to be: Kevin Durant recounts Golden State Warriors’ season, title run in new video.
Should we give the editor the benefit of the doubt? Maybe he or she meant to write “recounts” but misspelled it. Autocorrect -- not having any context -- changed it to “recants.” Of course, then it’s just a terrible editing job.
I know what you’re thinking… It’s way too easy to pick on digital media outlets for their shabby writing and editing skills. But there are two aspects of this egregious error that really stick out:
For starters, this likely wasn’t just a careless typo or bad grammar. It wasn’t a millennial who thinks text shorthand – like thru instead of through -- is okay for headlines. No, this was a vocabulary-related offense. It was just ironic that the wrongly used word completely reversed the intended meaning of the headline.
On top of that, it should be noted that this story was originally published on a major media site that actually employs writers and editors. Because my intent is not to shame any particular source, there’s no need to call them out here. But make no mistake, the headline was not written by a blogger in a basement.
That said, you can easily find the source by dropping that headline into your browser. And therein lies another problem. If you Google that headline you’ll find the original source – plus a dozen other blogs and/or newsfeeds that picked it up. Some are clearly feeds that automatically pick up the original headline, but a few are blogs created by humans who lazily re-ran the original headline and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.
Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs. And it’s not simply a matter of us grumpy old journalism school grads making too big a deal out of grammar and spelling (and vocabulary, for crying out loud).
Last week, I was talking to a buddy of mine who is an NFL reporter for a major sports website. His work is read by millions. Recently, his boss asked him to add a new person to the distribution list when he emails stories to the desk. It was the new editorial intern, he was told, and there’s a chance the intern might be the one editing your story.
Good for the intern, I guess. At most major sports sites, the editorial intern might get to edit wire stories or game recaps. But the only set of eyes on the NFL insider’s news stories?
I repeat, It’s a sad state of affairs.
And that is a statement I will not recant.