Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Miss, amiss: headline hackers

When I saw the headline "Muralitharan will Lara challenge" on the sports page of today’s TOI, my first thought was that the story was about Lara challenging Muralitharan, and that the copy editor had Master Yoda affiliations. That would have been a reasonable explanation. But no, it turned out the story was about Muralitharan saying he would miss the Lara challenge. Clearly headline-givers have progressed from being mere article-bowdlerizers to randomly doing away with all sorts of words.

T’was a time when the golden rule would be "If the headline doesn’t fit in the allotted space, remove one or all of the articles." (In my first copy-desk job, I remember this sagacious senior sub coming up to me and saying "Don’t ever use words like ‘the’ and ‘a’ in the headline." This was to be a blanket rule, even when it made nonsense of the story - ‘a few’ becoming ‘few’ for instance.) But now all words, regardless of their pedigree, are in danger. Soon, perhaps, in the tradition of Orwell’s Newspeak, we'll be able to say simply "Muralitharan Lara" for a story like this one.

P.S. My favourite headline anecdote involves a mistake I made late one night when I was in charge of releasing a page. I was feeling grumpy and tired and there was a story I couldn’t think of a headline for. So I wrote "give head give head" in the space, packed the page off to Design, and then forgot all about it until I saw the thing in printed form the next morning. Remarkably no one in office seemed to notice (or maybe they just thought it was the right headline; it made about as much sense as many of the others did, and it was more exciting).


  1. HAHAHAHAHAHA@"give head give head".

    Boy, that was awesome.

  2. I remember give head give head. By the way Jai, everyone noticed that headline, but didn't make much noise over it coz the story was something to do with hair on the head!!!
    I remember this.

  3. GOD! That was you?! It was in Today, right? It has become part of my headline lore and legend, told over and over again to an incredulous public, and ranks alongside somebody changing Tata Telecom to tattoo talcum in ET through over-zealous use of MS Word spell checker. But, boy, it'll take me the whole day to get over this -- that you were the 'give head give head' guy.

  4. Lol. Yeah, I have seen a blurred "Pic to Change" printed on a business page along with the right picture and caption. First I thought it was some slogan that accompanied the pic (overlapping it). Give head give head ... LMAO.

  5. LOL Now how did I miss that headline!

  6. Even my mistakes are famous? Wow.

    Seriously though: Bagchi, I think the reason you remember the story so well is that I'm constantly bragging about it to anyone who cares to listen. Am fairly certain I told you and your hub about it sometime or the other. I preened much for some time afterwards.

    Conman: the story had to do with some new shampoo brands I think. Hair on the head doesn't make much of a story, even in the jaded world of Indian journalism.

  7. Also, while on over-zealous use of MS Word spell-checker, I can never forget the famous instance when "Widows of Vrindavan" was modified gently into "Widows of Viridian", both in the strapline and in two places in the story.

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  9. The most common and most embarrassing of these headline gaffes, and I have seen numerous instances of this, is when a careless sub-editor drops the 'l' from 'public'! Hoo, man, the thought of what my former news editor would have done to me had I made the above-mentioned mistake gives me the goosebumps.

  10. While on headline...this just in:

    40 reported dead in London blasts
    At least 300 hurt, 150 seriously; Blair suspects terrorism

    Einstein that Blair, I tell you!

  11. Give head that too twice ....haha...I am sure you would have been blown away from your job if your higher-ups had read this

    Jabberwock, since you are a cricket buff, you may know about similar "commentary goofups" that have been made on air and in Vishwanath on a stick, Mianded violated by Dilip Doshi etc.

  12. Give head was you??? Hillarious....

    And there I was, wondering what journalists were smoking, to come up with headlines like that!

  13. Aunt to "cunt" in "Aunt arrested in murder" happened at the Telegraph - of the two men responsible, one is now a major honcho in the HT and the other is the chief policy wonk at Rediff/ India Abroad.

    And the now-defunct Sportsworld once
    published a (genuine) letter singing paeans of praise to "Leander's Lean Pectorals" and much more explicit stuff about loving his strokes etc from a gay fan.

    Rohit Brijnath put it on the page as a joke and Suprakash Ghosal who later headed the BBC's Bong section left it in by accident.

    Wish I could remember some of the letters that poured in from outraged readers worried about "the deterioration of our Culchar" as a result of both incidents.

    Since everyone concerned has done well, there's hope for you Jai!


  14. The headline and kicker for this article ( in the print version of Mid-day was unintentionally hilarious.

    The headline:
    'Designer livid as pic appears on sex site'
    The kicker
    'Promises good company in bed'