Be kind to the frustrated headline writer, please

Reckonings column by Della Mallette, Sept. 16 Grand Forks Gazette.

Poorly written headlines have long been the butt of jokes by comedians the world over—but not all headlines that become the news themselves were poorly written. Some were intentional and have become the stuff of pop-culture legend.

“Headlines body found in topless bar” ran on the New York Post front page on April 15, 1983. Vincent A. Musetto is the author of that headline and according to a Post story following his death this summer, he had to fight to get the headline into the paper.

It was an appalling crime. A psycho had invaded a Queens after-hours joint, shot the owner to death and then—on learning a female customer was a mortician—ordered her to cut off the victim’s head, which cops later found in the madman’s car.

Musetto, a managing editor, argued with then-executive editor Roger Wood that the headline “expressed with unflinching precision the city’s accelerating tailspin into an abyss of atrocious crime and chaos.”

Here’s a few other “inappropriate” headlines I found trolling the Internet. Intentional or not? Who knows.

Considered an all-time classic from the L.A. Times ca. 1968-70: “High Court Rules on Marijuana.”

Or, “Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement.”

And, “Republicans turned off by size of Obama’s package.”

“Man accused of killing lawyer receives a new attorney.” I don’t know if that was intentional but I do figure lawyers weren’t lining up for the job.

And a B.C. headline: “Nudists fight erection of towers near Wreck Beach.”

“Chick accuses some of her male colleagues of sexism.” Certainly an eye-catching headline; I’m sure readers were almost disappointed to read that LAURA CHICK was making accusations.

“City unsure why the sewer smells.”

“Slowdown continues to accelerate.”

“Miracle cure kills fifth patient.”

Now this one I know for sure is unintentional. When laying up the paper, the person importing the stories will make room for a headline, and if none immediately comes to mind, will put in some words to set the space: “Think of a headline, 56 pt bold headline.”

I’ve learned to simply type a “g” to set the maximum space, so if that’s a Gazette headline, you know now what’s happened!

Headlines are definitely written completely for effect, to dramatize, to virtually dare you not to read the story.

“How Beethoven ruined classical music.”

This headline sounds like it came from the National Enquirer, but in fact, it came from a magazine called Mental Floss.

Of course I had to read the story! But I regularly read this magazine and know this headline is exactly what the story is about.

“Thumbing his nose at authority and whipping crowds into a frenzy, he changed music forever,” reads the subtitle. So he did in effect “ruin” classical music of the day and reshaped the course of the genre.

Seriously, a good headline is extremely hard to write. The writer needs to grab the reader’s attention—sometimes with only a few words. Add to that the fact that a headline should be a phrase, not a title. Action needs to be implied.

I admit that sometimes with a “stand-alone photo” I give up and use a title. (A stand-alone photo means there’s no story, just a caption—known in the newspaper business as a cutline).

I hope you give headlines a bit of thought, because I reckon they’re what I struggle with most—all on the pressure of deadline.

I just hope I don’t find one of my headlines on the Tonight Show or Late Night.

Just Posted

Minor injuries in car, semi accident near Greenwood

Road conditions were likely a factor in the Friday morning crash.

Air advisory, open burn ban issued for Grand Forks

The burn ban will be in effect for two days.

Bucket truck, car collide in Highway 3 accident

The Thursday morning accident near Grand Forks slowed traffic for nearly three hours.

Man spotted with shotgun in East Trail leads to weapons discovery

RCMP recover numerous weapons and stolen items after search on Fifth Ave.

Skier caught in backcountry avalanche near Rossland

‘The man was lucky he had the ‘A-Team’ of ski patrol people able to respond as quickly as they did,’ says Rossland rescue spokesperson

UPDATE: B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

Clerk Craig James, security chief Gary Lenz call allegations ‘completely false’

China demands US drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

China detained two Canadians on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng

9 brains, 3 hearts: Some wild facts about octopuses

Things to know about the giant Pacific octopus, which is naturally found in the waters of the U.S. West coast, the Aleutian Islands and Japan

Hollywood announces 2019 Oscar nominations

Netflix has scored its first best picture nomination, something the streaming giant has dearly sought

B.C. man fined $10,000 after leaving moose to suffer before death

Surrey man was convicted last week on three Wildlife Act charges

‘Blue Monday’ isn’t real, but depression can be

CMHA encourages people to prioritize their mental health

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

B.C. man charged in 2014 snake venom death of toddler

Henry Thomas was taking care of the North Vancouver girl the day before she died

Parole granted for drunk driver who killed B.C. RCMP officer

Kenneth Jacob Fenton will be able to attend alcohol abuse treatment, nearly three years after crash that killed Const. Sarah Beckett

Most Read