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I’m a collector of wack newspaper headlines. You know the ones. Those that bring embarrassment to the newspapers they appear in and a few chuckles to those of us who read them.
Take for example, an actual headline from my hometown paper for an article about a clothing maker on Main Street who was planning to build an addition to his plant. At a planning board meeting the owner said his addition would be built to fill the space between the back of his building and the end of his commercial lot. After reading the story a sleepy copy editor wrote the headline: “Pants maker to expand in rear.”
Then there was a headline from a Portsmouth, N.H., newspaper over a story about the problems officials were having trying to get federal funding for the proposed Piscataqua River Bridge. The headline simply said: “New bridge held up by red tape.” We know what they meant, but it still sounds funny.
Having written a few headlines myself over the years I appreciate how difficult it is to get the essential points of a story into the headline in a way that makes sense.
Someone sent me a story from a paper in Canton, Ohio, about a blind woman who was getting a kidney from her father whom she hadn’t been in touch with in years. After an intensive search they found the father, and he agreed to donate a kidney. A great human interest story. The copy editor, trying to be as accurate and succinct as possible wrote the headline: “Blind woman gets kidney from dad she hasn’t seen in years.”
When I lived Down East a local paper once ran a wire story about what a terrible year it had been for fatalities on Maine’s highways. A public safety official was interviewed for the story and before running it the editor slapped this headline on it: “Auto accidents killed 110 Mainers last year; public safety official promises to do better.”
Sometimes just a few letters can make a big difference. Someone sent me an article from a Colorado newspaper that talked about a reading program being launched in Nicaragua. Unfortunately the copy editor wrote: “Nicaragua sets goal to wipe out literacy.” Maybe illiteracy was their goal but that’s not what was talked about in the article.
Do you remember the case in Portland several years ago involving someone who attended a concert and during intermission managed to walk off with a fairly expensive violin? The man was eventually caught and tried and the violin was returned undamaged.
When all the dust had settled the headline over the story about the man’s trial read: “Man gets nine months in violin case.”
Finally, for now, a reader in New Hampshire sent me an article and headline about a private school that had a fundraiser to repair the pillars that graced the front of the school. The headline in the local paper simply said: “School’s corroding pillars replaced by alumni.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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