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This entry needs a better headline

Everyone has a weird story about how they found their career. Well, mine is even crazier than most. I always knew that I could write, but I didn’t know what I would do with that skill. Then, I read If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground by Lewis Grizzard, and that ultimately led to a career (See? Pretty weird).

Unlike most of Lewis’ books, this isn’t a compilation of his folksy newspaper columns.  This was his autobiography, and it covered his rise through the ranks of journalism, from a cub reporter at a local paper to a sports editor with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Good stuff, especially since he achieved his career dream at the AJC at the age of 23 or something.

The thing that really struck me was his stories about writing headlines.  I loved to hear about the give-and-take in the newsroom as the editors toiled to come up with good headlines.  My favorite story involved an article about a minor league baseball player nicknamed “Peahead.”  He was known for telling stories about his playing days, and when he passed away, they had to write an article about Peahead.  So, one of the editors came up with this headline, which featured a smaller “kicker” above the primary header:

He’s dead
Did you hear the one about Peahead?

That’s just faaaantastic.  Lewis said that he couldn’t run it, but it was obviously a hall-of-fame effort.

So, over the years, I’ve noticed good headlines and made a mental note about them. My all-time favorite is from the Detroit Free-Press on the day following the 1993 UNC-Michigan NCAA final, when Chris Webber called the infamous extra timeout at the end of the game.  The headline?  “Pain Webber.”  Classic.

Then, the other day, MSNBC broke out with this headline: Botched porn swap sparks Japan defense leak furor.   Now, what could that headline possibly be missing?  Porn… Japan…a defense leak… the word “botched.”  That’s just awesome.  The article is pretty good, but the header is just other-worldly.

Of course, since I’m no longer an editor, I can only come up with my own headlines on current events.  A couple of notables:

  • When the Red Sox fired GM Dan Duquette, I wanted some outlet to run the headline, “No No, Duquette.”  If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll get that.
  • Just the other day, I thought that the harsh conditions at the Masters deserved this headline, “Augusta wind keeps blowing.” OK, that was trite, but it just hit me.

So, next time you’re reading the paper, think about how much information is conveyed in just a few words.  It’s an art, really.  And I learned my love of this art from Lewis Grizzard.  Hmm.  I might need some therapy.

Categories: Leftovers
  1. Ed
    April 12, 2007 at 12:01 am

    The all-time best might be the classic New York Post headline, “Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.”

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