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Opinionista

‘Small earthquake in Peru, not many dead’ — the dying art of writing headlines that sing

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Mike Wills is a journalist and talk show host.

Headlines have always fascinated me. There’s an extraordinary craft that lies behind the great ones. They scream ‘read me’.

I used to collect the best witty headline examples. My all-time favourite was The Sun’s Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious after the giants of Glasgow Celtic were knocked out of the Scottish football cup in 2000 by minnows Caledonian Thistle (or Caley, as they’re popularly known). Sadly, I have learnt this is not original — it riffs heavily off a relatively unknown Liverpool Echo headline 30 years earlier about Ian Callaghan’s performance against Queen’s Park Rangers: “Super Calli scores a hat-trick, QPR atrocious.”

(And while we’re digressing on the sports field, I did get sniggering pleasure from the American website which recently misinterpreted the rugby position of “hooker” and headlined “Tom Youngs: Leicester Tigers prostitute charged by RFU after Bristol incident”.)

These days, sadly, the headline art is being lost in the need to bait clicks. The digital headline is all too often driven by an algorithm based on words or phrases which will trigger responses. Buzzfeed has built an unworthy media empire on that kind of rubbish. And the mainstream media has largely scrapped the grizzled subs who specialised in headline writing, and have left the task to far duller minds.

One notable exception is The Economist magazine which still invests in sharp puns — “Tsarstruck” over an article about Russia’s obsession with its former royal family is a legendary one or, from the current edition, “Quad wrangle” for a dispute among four nations known as The Quad or “Boom time?” for an article on the optimistic future for supersonic aircraft or, I love this one, “How green is my Draghi?” heading an article about the Italian prime minister’s climate change creds.  

The decline of the great headline means I have shifted from collecting fine examples to collecting bewildering ones. (Well, bewildering to me, at least.)

Some in my digital vault from the first half of this year alone are weird, some are noteworthy for their sheer dullness, a few are funny, many are simply “huh?”, and a surprisingly large number are about Gwyneth Paltrow.

All of the headlines below are real and unedited (none is made up — even though that’s extremely hard to believe at times) and all have appeared in relatively mainstream digital media in 2021.  

The primary sources are dailymail.co.uk, news24.com, buzzfeed.com, theguardian.com, washingtonpost.com, nytimes.com, iol.co.za, timeslive.co.za and smh.com.au, but they have been harvested from many places. 

From the ‘You cannot be serious?’ department:

Australian woman wakes up from tonsil surgery speaking in an IRISH accent despite never visiting the country

In a small sample of Americans and Brits, 39% said they would give up a year of sex to travel

“I once farted so badly in the gym, someone threw up”

How finger length could determine your next MEAL: Size of your index and ring fingers shows whether you’re more likely to pick up a burger or a salad, study finds

Gender reveal party using 80 pounds of explosives sets off earthquake reports

Italian artist sells an invisible sculpture for $18,000

Walcha widow searched ‘how to commit murder’ before partner died

No groom? No problem! Woman marries herself after heartbreaking split with her boyfriend

Woman who’s married to herself says she’s still open to finding love and believes it makes her MORE eligible because she’s learned how to deal with her own issues so a partner doesn’t have to

Independent Media demands health department come clean about Tembisa decuplets, stands by Piet Rampedi

The celebrity section

Gwyneth Paltrow gained ‘a lot of weight’ due to coronavirus

Gwyneth Paltrow urged to leave Covid-19 advice to the experts

Gwyneth Paltrow has mastered not accidentally flashing on the red carpet

John Cena apologises to China for calling Taiwan a country

Post Malone spent R22m on his teeth

Salma Hayek meditates with her pet owl who likes wine

Yes, people want Jeff Bezos to buy the Mona Lisa and eat it

‘Mrs World’ arrested for grabbing crown from head of ‘Mrs Sri Lanka’

Miss Papua New Guinea stripped of her crown for TikTok twerking video

I Can’t Believe Machine Gun Kelly Painted His Tongue Black For The Billboard Music Awards

Ms Dippy says she’s not pregnant, apologises for ‘misunderstanding’

Kardashians compete with Jenners over who is most ‘genetically gifted’

From our political correspondent

Caitlyn Jenner announces plan to run for governor of California

In Peru’s presidential election the favoured choice is no one

ANC confident Ace Magashule will do the right thing and apologise, says Duarte

The United States confirms it no longer wants to buy Greenland

Was Donald Trump wearing his trousers BACKWARDS at rally?

US congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene apologises for comparing Covid-19 masks to Holocaust

Rep. Greene apologises for comparing face masks to Holocaust but stands by comparison of Democrats to Nazi party

From the animal house

‘Something bit my butt’: Alaska woman using outhouse attacked by bear

Pigs can be trained to use computer joysticks, say researchers

Toilet-invading iguanas among invasive species now banned in Florida

From the ‘Is that really news?’ department

Horsing around: Australian man creates paper pony out of lunch bags in hotel quarantine

Man completes mission to park in every spot at local supermarket

‘I’m Not a Cat,’ Says Lawyer Having Zoom Difficulties

‘The queen never had pizza,’ admits former Royal Chef, but she is quite fond of dark chocolate

Katy Perry has quit shaving her legs since she became a mother

Should men over the age of 40 make WhatsApp calls? Twitter discusses

And in international news…

Denmark launches children’s TV show about man with giant penis

Swiss army to begin issuing female recruits with women’s underwear

Police break up French warehouse orgy involving 100 people having sex because it broke Covid rules on masks and social distancing 

Queen honours Britain’s biggest sex toy brand LoveHoney with an award for enterprise after 365% growth in six years as chief praises the monarch for being ‘a wonderful supporter’

Zim man with 151 children and 16 wives still wants more

A German bomb squad combed a forest looking for a ‘WW2 bomb’ that turned out to be a rubber sex toy

America Is Not Made for People Who Pee DM

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