If, as is argued in the main story, the McDonald’s case was poorly reported, how should it have been done? For one thing, reporters could take some responsibility for the well known reading habits of their readers, who absorb the headline and possibly the news lead on a story and then move on. Keeping in mind that, as noted in the main story, the bulk of the McDonald’s coffee award was to penalize an irresponsible company and not to help an injured victim, we wrote a longer lead and a shorter headline.

Descriptive headline: “Jury: McDonald’s reckless to tune of $2.9 million”

Sparks Tribune headline: “Woman awarded $2.9 million after being burned by coffee”

Actual story: “An Albuquerque jury today hit McDonald’s Restaurants with $2.9 million in punitive damages after its coffee nearly killed an elderly woman and the company said it would continue serving the coffee at temperatures condemned by burn centers.”

Associated Press story: “A jury awarded $2.9 million in damages to a woman who suffered third degree burns after spilling a cup of McDonald’s coffee.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...