“Africanization” Disappears from NYT Headline

I’ve written before about the way Africa still functions for the news media as a “dark continent” of primitive savagery. So what a sad gift this headline was the other day in the New York Times: “Warming Leads to Water Shortage and ‘Africanization’ of Spain.”

I was getting all psyched up to write about this new symbolic use of Africa — intended by the article as a metonym for desertification, but suggestive of a whole host of fears of the foreign Other, such as the dangerous continent of Africa invading the shores of Spain, the gateway to Europe and Western Civilization — when I went to reread the article and discovered…the headline had been changed!

In the space of three days, somehow the word “Africanization” was dropped from the headline, and the article title now reads: “In Spain, Water is a New Battleground.”

So here I have another gift, another example of the seeming impermanence of new media coupled with the ubiquity of saved or cached data, which allows us to reveal the revisions that the online world feels no need to mention. In this case, the original headline is saved in my TimesFile.

On the one hand, I applaud the Times for yanking a word from their headline which plays upon European fears of African invasion. On the other hand, I wish the Times had made note of the revised headline, and perhaps even explained the reasons for the revision, rather than pretending like it had never happened.

If The Newspaper of Record is so fluid about its online presence, I think we need a new definition of what counts as a “record.”