Several years ago I shared my collection of newspaper headlines that unwittingly conveyed an unintended second meaning, often to hilarious effect. My all-time favorite: Grandmother of eight makes hole in one.
That’s the nature of the newspaper business, where doing everything in a hurry is part of the deal. Headline writers accept the risk, and nearly all of us in the profession fall into the trap occasionally.
So fertile is the field that I have collected a whole new set of headlines with consequences not recognized at deadline.
Students cook and serve grandparents. (I hope we taste just like chicken.)
Starvation can lead to health problems. (Let that be a lesson. Eat or die.)
Schoolgirl crushed by tree made everyone feel happy. (What could this kid have done to be so universally disliked?)
Hospitals resort to hiring doctors. (Desperate times call for desperate measures.)
State population to double by 2040; babies to blame. (Can somebody please tell these babies to knock it off?)
Utah poison control center reminds everyone not to take poison. (Thank goodness the bright minds in Utah stepped up with a warning we should all heed.)
One-armed man applauds the kindness of strangers. (Hear, hear!)
Headless body in topless bar. (I hope the media got to the bottom of this one.)
Madonna reads her second book. (You stick with it, girl. It gets easier).
Mayor to homeless: Go home. (Yes, that cardboard box just needs a decorator’s touch).
Diana was still alive hours before she died. (Weeks, months, and years even.)
Man accused of killing lawyer receives new attorney. (I’m guessing the new guy will want his fee up front.)
Scientists to kill ducks to see why they’re dying. (Is that like burning down a village to save it?)
Funeral homes bring cheer to senior citizens. (What, bingo at the mortuary? Would the cover-all game be at the cemetery? For sure this is the one time you don’t want to hear your number called.)
Blind woman reunited with father she hasn’t seen in years. (Not a dry eye in the place.)
Dead body found in cemetery. (C’mon, Detective. It should have been the first place you looked).
State prisons to replace easy-open locks. (There’s just no escape from the irony here).
City unsure why the sewer smells. (Note to city hall: don’t worry about it. That’s what sewers do, although technically speaking, only living creatures smell. Sewers stink.)
Earthquake damage is caused by shaking. (And tornado damage is caused by really high winds.)
Police seek public help in theft of guns. (I’m opposed to stealing, but hey, the cops need our help).
Woman’s search for sister ends after 18 years in supermarket checkout line. (And Kroger has the nerve to call it the Express Lane.)
Thursday cancelled. (Hey, let’s get the weekend started early!)
Here’s a new one that was in The Blade just a couple weeks ago: Area Doctors Get OK on Pot. (I don’t know what was ailing them but I’m sure they feel a whole lot better now.)
Keep in mind that our newspaper, like every other major newspaper in the country, is producing the equivalent of a novel every day, so while I poke fun, I also stand in awe of what I like to call “The Daily Miracle.” Things occasionally go wrong, but most of the time, like baseball umpires and football referees, we get it right, even without the benefit of instant replay.
It’s not just the media who fall into the trap of missing the obvious. A recent Facebook post asked a perfectly innocent and straightforward question: What is your idea of the perfect date? The first answer to come back: DD/MM/YYYY. I think someone was trying to be cute.
While all of us who work in the minefield of daily deadline journalism run the risk of a misinterpreted headline, it could be worse. Sometimes a blunder doesn’t involve a headline at all. Consider the following correction:
“The Jumble puzzle, which appeared on page D1 of Thursday’s edition, actually was the puzzle scheduled to appear today. The Jumble scheduled to appear Thursday, as well as the answers to Wednesday’s puzzle, are on page E1 today. The answers to the puzzle published today appeared Thursday, and the answers to the puzzle published Thursday will appear Saturday.”
That was not in The Blade, but as they say, there but for the grace of God.
Here’s a correction from a 1909 edition of the Sycamore, Ohio, Leader: “We wish to rectify last week’s mistake. We reported that Mr. Weininger was in fine health. He is not.”
Finally, some other sad news to share. A farm worker was killed in northeast Ohio a while back when his tractor overturned into a manure pit. I’m not making this up. He was pushing manure from the barn into the pit when the tractor flipped over, pinning him beneath it in four feet of — well, somehow calling it waste water doesn’t adequately capture the moment.
If I could pick how I’m going to die, drowning in a manure pit is absolutely at the bottom of my list. A tragedy for sure, and a really tough headline to write, only because the obvious one — a slight variation on “Stuff happens” — would be forbidden in a family newspaper.
Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Sunday. His radio commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered” on WGTE FM 91 Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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