Dateline: Fri 16 Jul 2010

This is courtesy of Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, Sunday July 18; it will make you laugh, it will make you cry. The gist is...two legs bad, four legs good. The old ways were better. And so they were....

"Not very long ago, the typical American newsroom had three types of jobs: reporter, editor and photographer. But lately, as newspapers have been frantically converting themselves into high-tech, 24-hour online operations, things are more complicated. Every few days at The Washington Post, staffers get a notice like this: 'Please welcome Dylan Feldman-Suarez, who will be joining the fact-integration team as a multiplatform idea triage specialist, reporting to the deputy director of word-flow management and video branding strategy. Dylan comes to us from the social media utilization division of Sikorsky Helicopters.'

"Call me a grumpy old codger, but I liked the old way better. For one thing, I used to have at least a rudimentary idea of how a newspaper got produced: On deadline, drunks with cigars wrote stories that were edited by constipated but knowledgeable people, then printed on paper by enormous machines operated by people with stupid hats and dirty faces.

"Everything is different today, and it's much more confusing. For one thing, there are no real deadlines anymore, because stories are constantly being updated for the Web. All stories are due now, and most of the constipated people are gone, replaced by multiplatform idea triage specialists. In this hectic environment, mistakes are more likely to be made, meaning that a story might identify Uzbekistan as 'a subspecies of goat.'

"Fortunately, this new system enjoys the services of tens of thousands of fact-checking 'citizen journalists' who write 'comments.' They will read the Uzbekistan story and instantly alert everyone that BARACK OBAMA IS A LIEING PIECE OF CRAP.

"I basically like 'comments,; though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots.

"My biggest beef with the New Newsroom, though, is what has happened to headlines. In old newsrooms, headline writing was considered an art. This might seem like a stretch to you, but not to copy editors, who graduated from college with a degree in English literature, did their master's thesis on intimations of mortality in the early works of Molière, and then spent the next 20 years making sure to change commas to semicolons in the absence of a conjunction.

"The only really creative opportunity copy editors had was writing headlines, and they took it seriously. This gave the American press some brilliant and memorable moments, including this one, when the Senate failed to convict President Clinton: CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR; and this one, when a meteor missed Earth: KISS YOUR ASTEROID GOODBYE. There were also memorably wonderful flops, like the famous one on a food story about home canning: YOU CAN PUT PICKLES UP YOURSELF"

Read the rest; it's well worth it. Then go ahead and comment...spit-flecked rants welcome.


Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

"Every few days at The Washington Post, staffers get a notice like this: 'Please welcome Dylan Feldman-Suarez, who will be joining the fact-integration team as a multiplatform idea triage specialist, reporting to the deputy director of word-flow management and video branding strategy. Dylan comes to us from the social media utilization division of Sikorsky Helicopters.'"

Dear god, please tell me this is satire. Even then, too close to reality.

My favorite headline, which brought the South Bend Trib presses to full stop: "Daughters Entertain at Orr House."

2010-07-17 07:20:53

ruthholl [Member] said:

As Freud said, there are no jokes.
Love the Orr House, altho it took me a few seconds to get it (innocent?)
This may prove that point. At the Evansville Press in 1974, in the women's section, for the food day cover, we did a story on venison and game meats. The headline was "A furry meal." It ran right across from the WOMEN logo. So it read:
WOMEN A furry meal.
(This was the beginning of cold type, when you could float a headline, etc., or at least the printers could...reporters/editors could not TOUCH type. )
A printer saw the obvious and pointed it out to Michael Grehl, then editor, who laughed so hard he had tears in his eyes....
OK, it's sorta a dumb story, but I have more...

2010-07-17 11:59:36

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

My favorite headline was published by a small-town daily in southern Indiana back in the late 1970s. Maybe some of you remember this because it was the source of a lot of yuks in newsrooms across the state.

This particular newspaper was known then to be unabashedly right-wing.

A former Soviet Union leader had just died (can't remember who) and the headline over the story read:

"Hell's population increased by one."

2010-07-17 12:19:08

OINK [Member] said:

The "Orr House" is a gag from the movie "Support Your Local Sheriff".

2010-07-17 13:22:43

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

Perhaps, but:

Robert Orr was a top exec at Associates Investments in the 1950s (he later died in a plane crash over Tell City). The wealthy Main Line Orrs were among South Bend's social elite...and there were two attractive Orr daughters. Hence the bona fide headline that, so far as I know, led to the only time the Schurz presses actually were stopped for page remake.
(I lived but blocks from the Orrs, though on the plebian side of the street, and dreamed of wrangling an invite to the Orr house.)

2010-07-17 19:00:09

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Ruthie, innocent? Oh my, thanks for the gut giggle on an early Sunday.

The old stories work in other ways, too:

The Muncie Star, in the early 70s, sent a photographer to cover a high school swimming/diving regional at the BSU pool. The next (Sunday) morning, a 3 col. X 6" picture ran, of an athlete diving into the pool. In a brief swimsuit. His back was arched, his entire body in a beautiful long bent line, and there, for all to see, was his, uh...pickle. Caption: "Delta sticks it to rivals"

I have a book of church signboards gone awry. If you ever want to borrow it, it's priceless.

Words are powerful, and sometimes funny things. That's why I love 'em.

2010-07-18 05:14:48

ruthholl [Member] said:

All too hilarous. When I used to speak to bored high school students about journalism, the only sure way to reach them initially was to tell about the little typos the printers at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette used to slip in...
In the ad for Golden's Menswear, it was SHIT SALE, and of course they loved to change the O in Fort to Fart Wayne....

2010-07-18 06:12:52

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Fart jokes NEVER get old, Ruthie. Ever.

Ask any 12-year-old boy.

It taps the 12-year-old boy in all of us.

2010-07-18 06:50:29

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Oh yeah, Star travesty of the week: three shootings at Black Expo last night, five paragraphs buried on p-14.

Nobody works past 10 PM any more. (sigh)

2010-07-18 07:01:01

Pat Pickett [unverified] said:

Oh Ruth, this MADE my day. I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to give you a big attribution in my blog tomorrow and direct folks to this gem.
By the way, two funnies:
1) Headline: Debutants Rest Between Two Big Balls (as God as my witness, I SAW the printed version, not an urban legend!)
2) Fugitive on the Lamb (My late mother circled it and sent it back to the shall-remain-nameless-now-defunct-publication with a note that "she thought that was illegal in Indiana.)
Hey,I started my own PR firm ... let's do lunch sometime!

2010-07-22 19:43:50

B2 [unverified] said:

We changed it after the bulldog came out but yes, in the sports section, we did proclaim in a headline:

"Deaf School Can Hear Those Victory Bells Ringing"

As an aside, Gene Jr. used to hand out $2 bills for headlines he found clever.

2010-07-23 09:41:24

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

The previous headline made me think of this typo....

From a smalltown Indiana newspaper Letter to the Editor:

"We should support our students who are attending the Indiana School for the Dead."

2010-07-24 16:25:47

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