Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Copy Desk

This week I drove from New Jersey to Dallas. Sometimes on the open road, I'll turn the radio off and think. I'll thnk about headlines, and before I know it I'll find myself thinking about Hill 122, a book I've begun writing; then with no transition I'll be thinking about the Kassel Mission, the subject of this interviewing trip; and somehow the radio will be playing again and I'll find myself wondering how I never got diagnosed with ADHD.

I thought about my last blog post, the good headline/bad headline one, and something troubled me. I asked myself, if a headline shouldn't make light of injury or death, how is it that "Headless body in topless bar" is such a classic? Along with another of my favorite heads, written by the great Joe Percival, a longtime very low-key super headline writer at the Daily News when I was there. It was one of those little two-paragraph stories about a woman who advertised her colon-cleansing services in the back of New York magazine. One of her clients turned up dead and she was arrested. Joe's headline was: "Public enema Number 1." Was this just the breaking of a rule that was meant to be broken, or was something else at play?

The answer, I thought before turning the radio back on, was the latter. The difference between a driver getting his head squashed when a tractor trailer is blown onto the top of his Honda and a patron of a topless bar getting his noggin severed is the difference between innocent and maybe not so innocent, I mean, it's not like he walked into the strip joint to order a Diet Coke and watch a football game. Same thing with the guy whose colon was punctured under less than wholesome circumstances.

So I'll amend my recommendation for walking that line between humor and bad taste. People on the seamier side of life are fair game, whereas innocent victims of harmful events deserve a headline writer's sympathies.

That said, wasn't the Super Bowl great this year? I could hardly take my eyes off the game, although I did think the Diet Coke at Scores was kind of watered down.