A newspaper headline is designed to grab your attention, sum up the story below it and entice you to read the body of the article. Over the years, good, bad, ridiculous and great headlines have become famous and infamous in their own right.
Occasionally a headline will jump off the page you’re reading and grab you by the neck. Last week, amid all the warmongering between Russia, America and Europe over the impending invasion of Ukraine, the caption atop Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times screamed: “Putin To Ukraine: Marry Me Or I’ll Kill You.”
Friedman’s personalized take on the swaggering Russian bully forcing his much coveted neighbour into bed at gun point was so cleverly accurate and comprehensive, the reader almost didn’t need to read the rest of his column.
A list of America’s most iconic headlines of the past shows them to be brief as in “Nixon Resigns” (August 9th, 1974). Violent, as in “Assassin Kills Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson Sworn In” (November 22nd, 1963). Both brief and violent as in “Beatle John Lennon Slain” (December 9th, 1980).
While in Canada, a list of our most famous headlines, recently compiled by Reader’s Digest, tend to be a tad on the light side. As in “Goat Arrested After Walking Into Saskatchewan Tim Hortons.”
Some Canadian newspaper leads speak to the very heart of our heritage: “Three Men Sentenced For $18 Million Maple Syrup Heist.” Some of our headlines are so quintessentially Canadian they make you want to cry. “Hockey Game Breaks Out After Massive Pileup On Quebec Highway.” Cry… from laughter, that is.
At least one was so classically Canuck, it deserved a celebration: “Canadian Truck Explodes After Hitting Moose, Sets Off Fireworks Display.”
Americans are drawn to headlines that are brutally direct — “Hitler Dead” (May 2nd, 1945). Or short and sweet like “The First Footstep” (July 21th, 1969) as Neil Armstrong touched down on the moon. And in that historical, hysterical moment when the first black man became president of the United States, just a single word: “OBAMA!” (The New York Times. November 5th, 2008)
Seldom does a headline give birth to a hit song. “4Dead, 10 Hurt At KSU” was the headline. Four Dead In O-Hi-O by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young became the 1960s protest anthem against the Vietnam War.
By contrast, Canadians seem to be more comfortable with the black and white captions that relate to our most colourful pastimes. “Zamboni Driver Charged With Impaired Driving.” Not to mention our trademark penchant for politeness — “Car Thief Returns Vehicle With A Full Tank Of Gas.” (And no, I checked. That guy wan’t even related to the “Ontario Thief Returns Stolen Goods, Leave $50 For Damages.”
Not to mention our trademark penchant for politeness. (What is there… an echo in here?) “Have A Good Day: B.C. Man Politely Asks Family Of Bears To Leave His Yard.”
This is not to say that the American press cannot, on occasion be warm and personal: “Rubio Suggests Trump Has Small Genitals.”
Or confusing: “One-Armed Man Applauds The Kindness Of Strangers.” Or really, really confusing: “Infusion Partners with Anheuser-Busch To Accelerate Business Innovation Using Microsoft Hololens.” (Seriously, take a digital firearm and put two bullets in the back of my computer.)
By using just her first name in the heading “Diana Is Dead”, The New York Post showed Diana Frances Spencer not to be just a British royal but the Princess Of The Planet.
Some American leads bear a keen eye for the obvious as in “Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons.” And sometimes they’re so obvious they do not require numerical statistics to prove the premise: “Study Shows Frequent Sex Enhances Pregnancy Chances.”
In the United States a headline can conjure up a wonderful image like that of a half man/half dolphin pitching his way into major league baseball. “Amphibious Pitcher Makes Debut.” (He taught himself how to throw the ball with either hand. No, no gills involved.”
In Canada a headline can be so frightening it discourages the reader to proceed to the actual story. This one from Newfoundland: “Shark Nearly Chokes To Death On Moose, Is Saved By Canadian Bystanders.”
From British Columbia came the recurring theme of mangled meat: “Sister Hits Moose On Way To Visit Sister Who Hit Moose.”
At least one great headline blurred the line of the 49th parallel. “Ford To City: Drop Dead.” No, not Rob or Doug to Toronto but Gerald to New York City denying The Big Apple help during its bankruptcy crisis.
And finally that perfect headline that binds our two great nations together and not just honours our bilateral friendship but blesses both sides of our 5,525-mile undefended border. “Canadian Man Sorry For Chugging Eight Beers And Swimming To Detroit.” The beauty of binge drinking succumbs to the lure of the America dream.
That guy’s friend, the one who chugged nine beers but stayed behind on land? He swears he saw his buddy being chased across the Detroit River by a shark with a moose in its mouth.
Headlines — sometimes they’re not ‘Breaking News.’ Sometimes it’s just news that’s broken.
For a comment or a signed copy of The True Story of Wainfleet email: