Don’t do that: Why joke headlines are a bad idea [Profanity warning]


Editors and staff are eating crow at The Suffolk Journal, the student newspaper at Suffolk University in Massachusetts. A sub-head printed in yesterday’s paper read, “Even we had some dumb fuckers sign up!”

Screenshot from the Feb. 1 Suffolk Journal, via jimromenesko.comDon’t get me started on the use of exclamation points in this headline and sub.

According to the editor’s response the next day: “The sub-head was put in as a joke, by editors, that unfortunately slipped through our editing process later in the night.”

While editors said it wasn’t the reporter’s decision or action that created the gaffe, whose byline is under it? Certainly that poor reporter is taking some heat over it too. And it’s possible that the incident will follow this poor student journalist into the career world, while the editors will probably see no lasting impacts.

I’ve seen newspapers leave the f out of “shift” in headlines and a several years ago co-worker spent an entire story referring to the “pubic safety building” one community proposed. Just months before I started my first editor gig at the Vernal Express, that paper had made its way onto Jay Leno for a headline about a “whopping couch” outbreak. Those are spelling mistakes. What happened at Suffolk, that’s just irresponsible.

Student newspapers serve as a training ground for journalists before they head off into the professional realm. By giving journalists some latitude while in training, hopefully we avoid a lot of these mistakes later. The takeaway here is to avoid inserting any temporary text on a page. It’s very possible, indeed probable, that it will make its way into print. It’s hard enough to catch legitimate mistakes without throwing this kind of thing into the editing process.

In my college days, we had a default cutline built into a template. It described how to write a cutline and on more than one occasion, it managed to land itself on the printed paper, often the front page. The worst I do today is insert a few lines of incomprehensible gibberish to gauge space. Admittedly even a few of those have slipped by. I had a headline last year above a columnist read simply “xxx” — not anything to be proud of and certainly not excusable, but it’s a far cry from calling people who sign up for student leadership programs “fuckers.”

2 thoughts on “Don’t do that: Why joke headlines are a bad idea [Profanity warning]

  1. I love it that you remember the “pubic safety building.” As the gentleman who is guilty of leaving out the L at least 8 times in said article, I have to say I agree with Mr. Bowen. Putting joke material on the page is simply moronic. In small shops, good proofing comes at a premium and should not be complicated because somebody wants to make a funny. By the way Les, do you remember the lady who wrote in convinced that I was calling it the “pubic safety building” on purpose.

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