A Digression On Titles

editorWith all the talk of late about the return of knights and dames to Australia, almost none of it noting that this was done in New Zealand a few years back to a wider extent and with the end of the world nowhere to be seen, I thought I might offer my own short piece on titles.

You see, I had a rather momentous thing take place in the last fortnight.  I have been writing opinion pieces now for the last couple of decades, first in New Zealand and then after we moved over here for The Australian, The Spectator and Quadrant.   In all that time, in all those outlets and more, I have never once had my suggested title for my opinion piece survive the editor or sub-editor or whomever it is that decides these things.

Always, always, always my piece would be prefaced with a different title or headline than the one I suggested.

Of course this is not something peculiar to me.  When Mark Steyn was last in the country he mentioned how he couldn’t get his titles past sub-editors.  It’s as though their jobs depend on changing the author’s suggestion.  Or perhaps they just have the best union in the world, or third-best after doctors and lawyers.

But don’t take any of this as complaining or whingeing by me.  Take it as world-weary observation, or as a preamble to my momentous news.  You see, a fortnight ago, in the last piece I wrote for The Spectator, I was stunned to open the magazine to find that my suggested title had been used.

You could have knocked me over with a feather!  Two decades after I started doing these sort of pieces and I finally cracked it.  I thanked the editor profusely.  I reckon it must have inadvertently slipped through.

Who says titles don’t matter?  Who says they don’t want one of their own?  Not me.


James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. His suggested title for this article survived the sub-editting process in no small measure because, after reading the above, the editor was too scared to touch it

One thought on “A Digression On Titles

  • Brian Wright says:

    James, I always find your articles informative and enjoyable but, as a newspaper sub-editor for many years (now retired) let me explain why your headings(“titles”)always get changed.
    Firstly,I have to tell you that I NEVER accepted the headings submitted by contributors, letter-writers etc. To do so would have been considered lazy and unprofessional, apart from the fact that many such submitted heads were simply not very good.
    Above all, subs have to write headings which grab the readers’ attention, fit within a certain column width in a specified typeface and size, and (preferably) be in the active voice. “A Digression on Titles” is okay for a whimsical website such as this one, but wouldn’t make it into a newspaper (or even Quadrant magazine). It’s simply too flat.
    So, continue to write your own headings(and expect to see them changed)but above all, please continue writing your excellent, well-informed and well-argued articles. Never mind the heading, if I see the name James Allan,I’ll read it!

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