Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Archduke Found Alive: World War a Hoax

What's the secret of a good headline? It's both art and craft you see; the craft comes in telling you what the story's about, but there's poetry too. (I've lazily stolen a famous spoof from the 1920s that nicely illustrates the way it works, largely because I can't think of a suitable one to go at the top of this piece).

Don't believe me? Why not have a read of Prof Stanley Fish on the matter. In his praise of New York Post style headlines (eg Headless Body Found in Topless Bar), he observes that beneath a pithy gag there can be layers of meaning expressed with an economy and precision equal to the best of modern poetry.

How ironic, though, that it appeared on the New York Times website. If there is one thing the NYT is bad at it's writing headlines: leaden, pompous, portentous and dull, dull, dull.

It says something that the most memorable one produced by the Gray Lady was a comical howler (which, incidentally, highlights the gratuitous use of commas to add needless sub-clauses.)

The headline announced that US soccer captain John Harkes was joining what was, at the time, one of England's top teams:

Harkes To Sign For Sheffield, Wednesday.

Some of laconic wit and brevity that you will find even at the higher end of the British media would go down well in the headlines of America's most august journals. A little art to make the functional task of telling the reader what a story is about does, in a small and subtle way, enhance the readers' appreciation.

On the other hand: the tabloid need for constant gags and puns can become wearing and somewhat infantile. Or, in the case of this effort, you end up with a contender for worst headline of the year.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Sir Compton said...

Yes, that Schindler one was wince-making. I still like "Lesotho women make beautiful carpets" and "Foulkes off to South Pole".

4:19 pm  
Blogger dominic said...

That is rather appalling.

Russia Today (who I think have given up trying to be taken seriously, except by conspiracy theorists and other such loons) came up with this today

http://www.russiatoday.com/Business/2009-04-22/Happy_Lenin_s_Birthday__Rich_Guys.html

5:28 pm  
Blogger bill said...

Dominic, you might wish to compare that with the front page of the Telegraph and draw your own conclusions.

Sir Compton, fine stuff indeed. There is also the sporting classic "Fuchs off to Benfica" which echoes yours.


I can think of a few deliberately provocative sports ones, of which more anon.

12:43 am  
Blogger dominic said...

Ah, yes, that was indeed my thought when I first glimpsed today's Telegraph.

Still, however crap the T has become (as with its coverage of Northern Ireland, it slips into lazy idiocy on anything that is deemed to concern "middle England"), unlike Putin's mighty organ, I don't think they have (yet) said that Obama is aiming to set up a corporate fascist state modelled on that of Mussolini, or that Brown and Sarkozy "who are both proteg├ęs of the Rothchilds" (exact quote) are planning to take advantage of the international financial crisis to impose a totalitarian world government.

I would look to the Daily Express for that sort of thing, eventually, I suppose

10:47 am  

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