Beginning this week I no longer work at a newspaper. Officially, Saturday was my last day at The Mercury.
I’ve had mixed feelings ever since accepting a job with no newsroom at an office that doesn’t have a printing press. On one hand, I’m excited about starting a new endeavor and all of the challenges that will entail. On the other, I’m going to miss having a daily deadline. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment one gets from editing and assembling a newspaper that’s tough to describe.
While I’ve enjoyed many aspects of newspapering in my career, the most enjoyable has been one of the toughest: headline writing. It’s so tough that I got lazy with the headline for this column.
It’s a dying art with more and more publishing shifting to the digital world where there are no space constraints mandating concise writing. Of course online publishers don’t have a need for short words rarely used outside of print headlines like mull (contemplate), eye (consider), tap (select/nominate) and a host of others.
Great headlines are short, descriptive and make you want to read the story. My favorite usually involve humor in some fashion. It’s nice to poke fun at the oddities that make it into print, and a knee-slapping headline is also a cue to readers that no serious injuries occurred.
One of my favorites at The Mercury was “Officials seek poop as illness spreads.” Nobody could resist reading the story after seeing that headline about a mysterious bug tearing through Manhattan High School that led officials to solicit fecal samples.
My juvenile sense of humor makes me partial to bathroom comedy, which also sparked the screamer “City Park Pool sees No. 2 closure” in 2015 after officials closed the swimming hole for the second time because of a fecal incident.
I finished second in a headline writing contest for the Kansas Press Association in 2017, losing out to my peers at the Topeka Capital-Journal. If I’d had the chance to include a 2018 headline that initially appears mundane, I’m certain I’d have taken top prize.
“After tying one on, man pleads no contest to 4th DUI” subtly belies the payoff for readers who waded deeper. In this case, a the man in question was wearing only a strap-on penis when police cuffed him at a Manhattan gas station.
While attention-grabbing, “strap-on penis” doesn’t play well in big type for a family newspaper. I received confirmation that my pun landed when publisher Ned Seaton texted “Headline of the year” after seeing it in print. That’s high praise in late March.
Sometimes simplicity is the best course, as was the case of “Santa, baby” in a 72-point font over a photo of Santa with a baby for an edition on Christmas eve.
One thing that has made leaving The Mercury easier is knowing that my replacement is already in place, and he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the job.
Some of Bryan Richardson’s many unofficial titles accumulated in his years at The Mercury have included senior staff photographer, K-State Drag Show expert, presidential correspondent and chief meteorologist. However, none of those titles came with a pay raise. The job of news editor does. Congratulations.
I know Bryan will do a fantastic job, especially on headline writing.
When Pizza Hut’s Aggieville location closed in 2015, Bryan summed up the news in two words: “Pizza Shut.”