Thursday, September 5, 2013

'Headless' headline writer axed

The headless newspaper delivery person of Sleepy Hackensack

   It was big news recently when the fellow who wrote "Headless Body in Topless Bar" was let go after 40 years with the New York Post. Actually, he'd been writing movie reviews on a freelance basis for the Post, so he was probably either bought out or laid off a couple of years ago, and some bean counter likely said, "Why do we need to pay for freelance movie reviews anymore?"
  The firing of Vinnie Musetto went viral, with NPR saying many people consider that the greatest tabloid headline ever written. Not me. First, note how NPR qualified it with "tabloid," as if the New York Times or Washington Post never would let a headline like that grace its pages, which they wouldn't. It's probably taught in journalism school as the ne plus ultra of tabloid headlines.
   If I had the final say, I'd have let the headline through, I may be critical but I'm not a fool.
   I suppose, though, it was a watershed event in tabloid journalism and if it has inspired legions of journalism students to think creatively, so be it.
   There's another headline, though, that I think of as far better as pure headlines go, and it doesn't make fun of gruesome murders or strip clubs.
   It was written by my former colleague Ed Reiter, and won a New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists award, for which it hung for several years on a bulletin board near the copy desk. It's probably still hanging there, although the newsroom has long since been deserted and the staff moved to less valuable real estate.
   The headline was above a gardening story, that's right, a gardening story, about an invasion of slimy pests that were giving people grief. The more I looked at that headline from my seat on the copy desk, or as I passed the bulletin board on my way to the cafeteria, the more it grew on me.
   The headline was "Slugfest in the Garden." To me, looking at that headline on the bulletin board was like looking at a work of art in a museum. It was a double double entendre deal, with slugs being the slippery slimy creatures and the left and right hooks and body blows and haymakers and garden conjuring imagery of both that place the slippery slimies were invading and Madison Square Garden, once the mecca of the so-called "sport of kings."
   So here's to you, Ed Reiter, award winning headline writer and world famous numismatologist (he's also an expert on coin collecting).

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