Monday, August 22, 2011

Art of headline writing is alive and, well ...

The art of headline writing is alive and, well, I'm probably shooting myself in the foot (owch! ooch!) but I'm going to say it: as hackneyed and uncreative as ever. If I had a nickel for every newspaper and blog entry that began with the headline "The Help cleans up at box office" I could buy passage on the first vessel to take members of the public into outer space, which is where I imagine my former employers would like me to be (oops, I almost forgot about that non disparagement clause).

Well, maybe I wouldn't have found that headline so bothersome -- I should note here that I have neither read the book nor seen the movie -- if numerous oral historians who've dealt with the subject addressed in "The Help" were not outraged by the stereotyping and language in the movie.

That said, it also could be that such a headline bothers me because it's what's known in headline writers' lingo as "a gimme." Okay, there is no such thing as headline writer's lingo, I just made that up. But it's still a gimme. I prefer to see a little more thought go into a head, like maybe "The Help sweeps into first ..."

"Help sweeps" why, that's as idiotic a head, I say, as idiotic a head as my Aunt Jenny's corn puddin'

OK, case in point, here we go. I googled "The Help cleans up" (I tried Bing, but the only thing that came up was "The Help is dreaming of a white Christmas...") and here's what came up:

"The Help cleans up after Spy Kids' trail goes cold ..." The Guardian (note: Spy Kids' trail goes cold. Clever)

"'The Help' cleans up" ...

"The Help" finishes at top of box office ... Inside Movies/ (good and straightforward, but it should be noted that a day earlier, according to google,'s box office report noted: The Help cleans up with $20.5 million)

The Help cleans up at box office ... Chicago Sun-Times

The Help cleans up at the box office ...

"Help moves upstairs with $20.5M ... weekend/ (Moves upstairs, I like that)

Box office bloodbath: The Help cleans up ...

The Help mops up competition ... (Give that headline writer a Nat Sherman cigar ... okay, okay, it's almost football season, and maybe that headline writer is a woman)

The Help cleans up at the box office ... Richmond Times-Dispatch

Movie review: The Help cleans up the South too much ...

Did 'The Help' Clean Up? ...

Drama 'The Help' cleans up ... BBC News

"Fly me to the moon ..." (That's me, collecting my nickels)

There are several more pages of the same. Oh, wait ...

"Help" Beatles the competition ... I made that one up. Ten four, out the window (phweeeeee...THUD)

I say, you were supposed to throw the headline out the window, I say, not yourself. Looks like you done landed in my Aunt Jenny's corn puddin. That stuff is hard as a rock!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Arianna Huffington commits heinous, I say heinous, act

It's been said that the Internet is killing the newspaper industry. Alas and alack, I say, looka here, it certainly, I say looka here I say,  has contributed to the elimination of ink stains if not of ink stained wretches. Be that, I say I say, as it may, looka here I say -- excuse me, Mister Leghorn -- the Huffington Post is killing the craft of headline writing.

A little foreshadowing may be in order. Numerous entries ago I noted my confusion over a headline that included the name of a popular Christian music band that I had never heard of. A commenter noted that the band's name might have been included in the headline because someone searching the Internet might type in the band's name and be directed to the article; hence, increased visibility, I say I say.

Which brings me to Arianna Huffington, a.k.a. Huffington Shmuffington. Ever since the Huffandpuffpost was bought by AOL for several gazillion dollars, there has been a proliferation of headlines featuring the names of people and places that nobody has ever heard of, or if anybody had heard of them, they could neither spell nor pronounce them. Names like Anders Whatsisface Breivik and places like Svalberg.

I say looka here, what's in a name? In the sports department of a newspaper, a name is something to have fun with. A-Roid. An A-Bomb from A-Rod (okay, that's an announcer's appellation, but I love it anyway). The news desk, at least one on which I spent several years, tends to handle the names of people with a little more A-plomb. I can still recall some 15 to 18 years ago the debate that rivaled Lincoln-Douglas or Nixon-Kennedy over whether to identify Leona Helmsley by her first name in a headline. The editors begrudgingly yielded, and Leona became a staple of the headline writer's craft.

But a headline is supposed to tell a story, maybe entertain a reader, maybe entice some poor sap into reading a story that isn't worth reading. The message of the Huffpost is that none of the above is any longer applicable. The sole purpose of the headline is to tag a story and you better remember that or you can go back to the Podunk Tumbleweed instead of working for Her Huffingtonness.

Headline Guy cuts to chase

Allow me to cut to the chase. Just today, some examples:

Connecticut Babysitter Loni Bouchard Arrested For Allegedly Having Sex With 14-Year-Old

Loni who?

Rudolf Alexandrov, Chesnut Hill Adjunct Professor, Kills Himself In Front Of His Students

(Now looka, I say looka here, I just googled Rudolf Alexandrov, and guess what came up number 2, right behind the CBS News story which only identified him as a Philly professor in the headline)

James Moss Sentenced To Weekends In Prison For Putting Son In Oven

Alan Gross Trial: Cuba Upholds 15-Year Sentence

Here I am trying to help people write clever headlines when the trend is screw clever, tag the story in the headline and get an edge over the saps who only tag the story in the section that says "tags". Search engine optimization. Damn the headliner writer's creativity. I have seen the present and it sucks.