Friday, December 30, 2011

WHAT'S IN A HEADLINE

Regular readers of this column will have noticed that the only headline that The Citizen ever uses for these essays is the actual name of the column- In My Humble Opinion. To me, one of the hardest things to do is to summarize a seven hundred word write-up into a three, four or five word headline. In fact, while I was trying to get my writing efforts to a larger audience an on-line writing forum sent me a 3000 word essay of their own on “The art of writing good titles for the internet” in an obvious attempt to pizzazz-up my titles that I was submitting to them.
Therefore, writing headlines is an art form in itself. Just ask The Citizen or any newspaper staff as they struggle to meet all of their deadlines and try to condense the subject matter of innumerable articles into eye-catching phrases. Sometimes, as deadlines are looming and distractions are unstoppable, a headline or two will get posted in the paper that maybe should have been proofread one or two more times. Then again, someone could read a headline one way and another person will read it another way and one person will catch the mistake while the other one can’t even see it after three or four readings, if you know what I mean?
Newspaper typos, misstated headlines, wrong-worded signs and similar foibles are so prevalent that The Tonight Show’s host, Jay Leno, has been doing a segment on his program for years highlighting these kinds of faux pas like-“ ‘It’s always a crapshoot to figure out how many porta-potties to have at these kinds of events,’ stated Mia Hansen, executive director of Tucson Meet Yourself”; or a miscue in a grocery store flyer stating, “Elf cutlets in wine-$2.29 per 12oz package.” Excuse me?
Occasionally headlines will appear wrong because of the way our English language is structured and sometimes a sentence can be read quite differently depending on inflection or accentuation or simply because of the sentence’s structure or perhaps the use of the same English words that have different meanings. Like the last item in the paragraph above where “Elf” would be the “brand-name” of the cutlet producers not the cut of meat from an elf; one would assume. But, then again, one should never “assume” anything, either, right?
The other day I got an email from my brother with an attachment entitled “Headline Head Scratchers” and I just had to share some of them with you. Enjoy.
“Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter.”-Huh?
“Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says”-Really?
“Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over”- Hmmmm…okay.
“Miners Refuse to Work After Death”- Some people will do anything to get out of work, eh?
“War Dims Hope for Peace”- Now there’s an astute observation.
“Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures”- Ya think?
“Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide”- No @#$% Sherlock!
“Red Tape Holds Up Bridges”-Ummm…I think I’ll just take the Ferry, if you don’t mind.
“Astronaut Takes Blame For Gas On Spacecraft.”-What, the Pepto didn’t work?
“Kids Make Nutritious Snacks”- Who wrote this…Hannibal Lecter?
“Hospital Sued by Seven Foot Doctors”-Those are some very tall doctors!
“Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead”- ??? . For once,
I’ve got nothing to add.

“Writing headlines is a specialty-there are outstanding writers who will tell you they couldn’t write a headline to save their lives.” Bill Walsh (author/editor-1961- ).

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