Headlines that shouldn't have happened
It takes a special talent to write headlines. During my long newspaper career it was a talent missing from my makeup. Don't get me wrong; I could write beautiful headlines, but if the count was nineteen mine were twenty. You cannot make a twenty count headline fit in a space limited to nineteen.
That was OK because reporters don't write headlines. Editors do that. Sometimes the headline leaves something to be desired, so who do the readers blame for it? The reporter who wrote the story, of course.
Most of the editors I worked for were very good at the job. The best was Jack Richman, a wonderful city editor. You could file a story a few minutes before deadline and he would go over it, send it to the composing room and write a perfect headline and have it done on time.
Poor editors lift the best part of a story and use it in writing the headline. That would be like introducing a comedian by telling the punchline of his joke.
So I was thinking of headlines today after reading a post on a messageboard. I added a post of my own telling of two really bad examples on a paper I worked for. Rather than waste them on a messageboard, I'll use them here.
The first showed that semi-colons sometimes fail to do the job. It was written by a young editor who eventually became the editor of the entire paper. I never let him live down the headline that read:
Mabel Jones dies; cooked at Colonial Cafe.
The other one was much worse. If an excuse was needed by the writer he could have blamed it on a couple of policemen who didn't get along with each other. Jim Peters was rather heavy set and his not-so-friendly rival, Paul Cox, was a giant of a man. There wasn't a subject they agreed upon. The headline involving the pair read:
Cox and Peters battle at Merit Commission.
I'm not sure how many people actually read the story but I am certain everyone in town saw the headline. I had nothing to do with either the story or the head, yet everyone I saw the next day had some wisecrack and I was the innocent victim of their sorry attempts at humor.
Well, that's just the way it goes in the newspaper business.