Co-CEO Benjamin Haslem recounts some of the best-laid puns of mice and men made throughout the glory years of print newspaper (and beyond)!
Writing a clever and memorable headline is a rare gift.
Get it right and it will go down in history.
The 1983 New York Post splash – ‘HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR’ – is an oft quoted example of the craft at its very best.
Clever headline writing is admired by most journalists.
In the age of the over-worked and time-poor journalist, placing an attention-grabbing headline on your media release will go some way to ensuring it is at least read by its recipients.
The success of any release rests in its for paragraph.
A great headline should encourage the reader to delve deeper.
In the pantheon of headlines there are the possibly apocryphal.
From World War Two there was ‘MacArthur Flies Back to Front’ and ‘Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans.’
I can find no photographic evidence to support either of these, but they are quoted regularly.
My favourite all-time headline draws on Mary Poppins for inspiration.
It appeared atop a February 2000 article in the UK Sun. Reporting Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s 3-1 victory over Glasgow Celtic in a Scottish football match, the page is topped with this four-deck pearler:
According to The Guardian, however, it’s burrowed from a Liverpool Echo 1970s report of an Ian Callaghan masterclass against Queens Park Rangers:
SUPER CALLY GOES BALLISTIC, QPR ATROCIOUS
Other great examples of headlines drawn from popular culture include one from this month.
Reporting on the potential for a trade war between the US and the EU and possible reprisals from the Continent, London’s CITY A.M. splashed with:
‘HIT THE CHEVY WITH A LEVY, TAX YOUR WHISKEY & RYE’
In April 2013, the Ulster Gazette's deputy editor Richard Burden came up with this remarkable riffing of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody when he placed the following on an article about the cost of a railway service study:
‘OVER £100M! Is this the rail price? Is this just fantasy? Caught up in land buys, No escape from bureaucracy!
And then there’s using popular culture against the artist, as with The Sun’s 1998 splash:
‘ZIP ME UP BEFORE YOU GO GO’
The article was reporting on late singer George Michael’s arrest for ‘engaging in a lewd act’ in a public bathroom in Los Angeles. Which is a useful segue into the timeless marriage of sex and headline writing.
US Congressman Anthony Weiner’s 2011 sexting controversy was manna from heaven for sub editors.
The New York Post had a field day:
‘WEINER: I’LL STICK IT OUT’
‘OBAMA BEATS WEINER’
‘WEINER’S RISE AND FALL’
Tiger Woods has also provided much inspiration for The Post:
‘Tiger admits: I’M A CHEETAH’
And when the champion golfer was penalised two strokes for an incorrect ball drop at the US Masters:
‘TIGER PUTS BALLS IN WRONG PLACE AGAIN’
Poo and bottoms are also winners when it comes to headlines.
Ireland’s Metro Herald splashed with something a teenage boy could have written:
‘Woman swept away in her car by wave of slurry was lucky to escape the … Poo-nami’.
Then there’s our very own NT News, which has become a parody of itself when it comes to page one headlines.
This July 2012 effort on an article about a man who suffered burns to his buttocks from a firecracker won a Walkley award!
WHY I STUCK A CRACKER UP MY CLACKER
The NT News considers it: “arguably the most famous front page in the history of the NT News (and possibly journalism)”.
Who am I to argue.
I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a headline writer, though in my 10 years at The Australian I spent about four weeks as a sub editor. That was during my cadetship and was spent on the Daily Telegraph, where I was more concerned about my poor spelling than catchy three-deck headlines.
Nevertheless, I’m proud of a couple of my efforts in the pages of The Shell over the past five or so years:
‘All webbed up & no SEO’ for an article on search engine optimisation or ‘Someone old, someone new, brows are furrowed at Kiwis’ blue’ for a piece on the attempted political marriage of convenience, following the last New Zealand election – ‘old’ being political veteran Winston Peters; ‘new’ being the now Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern.
Then there’s the plain groan-inducing ‘Brussels sprouts ideas’ for a piece on last year’s IPREX annual meeting in the Belgium capital.
Other honourable mentions in the headline hall of fame (again, some may be apocryphal):
‘Squad helps dog bite victim’
‘Red tape holds up new bridge’
‘Man struck by lightning faces battery charge’
‘Hospitals are sued by 7 foot doctors’
‘Kids make nutritious snacks’.
The Shell Issue 11
1. Chairman address, John Wells
2. The confluence of influence: where social media and business meet, Stav Pisk
3. Mind the gap in your crisis planning - how Sydney Trains used social listening to avert a PR disaster, Tracey Jarvis
4. Cyberspace in APAC - keeping it secure, free and open, Alexandra Mayhew
5. Won't somebody please think of the children?! Aussie e-cig regulators dragging the chain on public health reform, Isabelle Walker
6. The man from Wagga, Tim Mantiri
7. A new day for Zimbabwe under Mnangagwa or a false dawn?, Kerry Sibraa AO
8. Don't be a rebel without a cause, Karen Bells
9. Quirky headlines, Benjamin Haslem
10. New planning panels for Sydney for projects valued between $5 and $30 million, Kathy Lindsay
11. Putting the practical into tertiary studies - now there's a theory, Tom Scambler
12. IPREX highlights