Monday, August 16, 2010

Another nail in the coffin of my career

Two online headlines grabbed my attention this morning -- well, they didn't exactly grab it, I just threw that in as an action verb to grab your attention, they really just intrigued me. Most of the headlines I read these days are online since newspapers are too expensive for a 99er like me who doesn't know where his next month's minimum credit card payments are coming from. Ahh, those heady days when I was a card-carrying member of the middle class. But I digress.

The first was one of those heads that gave me pause ... that is, there was just something about it that didn't work, at least for me. "Chinese 'iPod' aims to skin Apple." The story was about some 22 year old whiz kid in China who designed a contraption that fits over an iPod Touch like an outer skin, and converts it into an iPhone, making for a much more cost effective iPhone than the iPhone itself. So yes, this was a skin for an iPod, but when you "skin" something, you're removing the skin, not adding it. Here we go again with the "poetic license" defense.

But that's neither here nor there. I'll give the headline writer credit for trying, for putting it out there to see if it works, whether it works or not. Sometimes you have to do that.

It was another head that troubled me, not because it was a poor headline, but because it was a good headline. A little background. The very first story I wrote as a cub reporter for The Campus, one of two school newspapers at the City College of New York, back in 1967 was about a series of old movies that were to be shown in the South Campus cafeteria. When I opened the paper and looked at the story, the headline said "Welcome now to Rick's Cafe." I was like "Huh?" Let me rephrase that. I was 17 years old and had never seen "Casablanca," a still from which accompanied the article.

The lesson I learned way back then was that a good copy editor has to keep abreast of culture. I can still remember the thrill I had at the New York Daily News the first time I was able to sneak the word "Yo!" into a headline, following the success of "Rocky." Don't ask me what the rest of the headline said, I don't remember. That was a long time ago, and that's the problem.

The headline that intrigued me today said "Police dare Switchfoot singer to move." My initial reaction was that this was some kind of "Are you feeling lucky, punk?" kind of story. It was actually about a singer for the band Switchfoot -- which I'd never heard of -- who gave an impromptu concert in Tampa after opening for the Goo Goo Dolls. At least I'd heard of them.

These days so many jobs in the media business have been merged that I'm guessing the writer wrote his own headline, just as copy editors now have to lay out the stories they edit, because it appeared that the last two paragraphs of the story were written to explain the headline.

Switchfoot, the writer noted, is a San Diego-based Christian rock group whose mainstream hit "Dare you to move" was featured on the U.K. version of the "Spiderman 2" soundtrack.

Well, I thought, so much for me keeping abreast of modern pop culture. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I hear the Christian rock ringtone on my iPod Touch phone.

THIS JUST IN: On the other hand, there are some advantages to being a dinosaur, in addition to being able to chow down on nerdy scientists. A teaser headline on that I saw only moments ago said "Tea Company Is Closing 25 Stores." Tea Company? Obviously, the tech-savvy youngster who wrote that could probably whistle the U.K. soundtrack for Spiderman 2 backward, but is too wet behind the ears to know that the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company is commonly referred to as A&P, not Tea Company. I'm reminded of the fool who created the New Jersey Turnpike sign directing travelers to the James Cooper rest area. That person probably thought Fenimore, who needs a middle name like that, when we can save a few bucks on the signage, but at least he wasn't a copy editor.