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Not all headlines are golden

Published November 13. 2010 09:00AM

Headline-writing is an art form of the highest order. Trying to get the true essence of a story into a few words takes skill and ability.

Those who work on small community newspapers, such as The TIMES NEWS, or specialty publications smile when they hear that our colleagues on The New York Times copy desk may be called on to write maybe eight headlines on a normal night.

Journalists who have to write stories, edit them and do headlines in addition can only salivate at the thought of being able to ponder and agonize over just a few headlines during an eight-hour shift.

One might conclude that with such specifically few chores every headline would be golden. Well, think again.

Take this stinker that appeared in The New York Times: "Dirty-air cities far deadlier than clean ones, study shows."

How's that for a revelation?

Or this one, also published in The Times: "Survey finds dirtier subways after cleaning jobs were cut."

These are what we call in the business, "Well, what do you expect" types of headlines.

The Cornell Daily Sun ran this stunner: "Study finds sex, pregnancy link."

Or this one from The Los Angeles Times: "Larger kangaroos leap farther, researchers find."

A headline-writer for The Hartford Courant, one of New England's largest newspapers, wrote: "Alcohol ads promote drinking."

An even-larger paper, The Baltimore Sun, had this less-than-glowing headline: "Malls try to attract shoppers."

Newsday, Long Island's largest newspaper, did it, too: "Low wages said key to poverty."

Obvious headlines are not the exclusive property of just larger papers; smaller ones print them, too.

The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., had this one: "Tomatoes come in big, little and medium sizes."

In Rochester, N.Y., The Democrat and Chronicle had this flash: "Fish lurk in streams."

The Daily Gazette in Schnectady, N.Y., proclaimed: "Biting nails can be a sign of tenseness in a person."

But winning the "no kidding" award is this one from the St. Augustine, Fla., Record: "Bible church's focus is the Bible."

Then there was this headline that reminded me of the classic radio "blooper" when the script called for the actor to say, "Take that!" and a gunshot was supposed to go off. It didn't, so the actor had to improvise and said, "OK, well, then, I'll just take this knife and let you have it." At that precise instant, the gun sound effect was heard. The headline, which brings that anecdote to mind, was this one from the Miami Herald: "Man shoots neighbor with machete."

(Bruce Frassinelli, a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School, lives in Schnecksville and is an adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College. His e-mail address is

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