Waggish? Droll? Playful? Whimsical? Surely Not the Good, Gray New York Times

By Mike Feinsilber

Years ago, I read in a book about what copy editors sitting around the rim at the New York Times did in idle moments. They composed tongue-in-cheek headlines about ancient events. I can remember only one of them, how the Times might have reported the deliverance of the Ten Commandments:

Moses, on Sinai,
Gets 10-Point Plan

Whimsy is back at the Times, once called “The good, gray lady.” Here are some of the Times’s recent headlines:

On a story reporting how Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, had after weeks of cat-and-mousing, agreed to testify at a congressional hearing:

Makes Date
For Live Chat
With Congress

On a story raising questions about whether Alexa, the voice-activated smart speaker which responds when its owner calls out, “Hey, Alexa!”, is capable of eavesdropping and using captured conversations for commercial purposes:

Hey, Alexa, What Can You Hear?
And What Will You Do With It?

Another story reported concern that Facebook’s infinite memory may be put to nefarious purposes:

Remember Those Friends
You Deleted Years Ago?
Facebook Does

On the ubiquitous machine-made phone calls that always seem to come at suppertime, the Times reassured us:

It’s Not Just You: Those Pesky
Robotcalls Are Getting Worse

When career spy Gina Haspel underwent congressional scrutiny while awaiting Senate confirmation as the new CIA director:

Long Undercover, CIA Pick
Now Under Microscope

When the current occupant of the White House met the chancellor of Germany, of whom he’d been critical, the Times summarized:

Trump and Merkel Meet One on One
But Don’t See Eye to Eye

With this headline, the Times fretted that more than a billion people lack eyeglasses, even though the trouble could be cheaply fixed:

A Health Crisis That Cost $1.50 to Correct

A series of discoveries about the old red planet gave impetus to this Times headline:

It’s Rusty and Dusty But Mars
Gives Us New Reasons to Look Up

And after Joe Arpaio, the convicted, then pardoned, immigrant-bashing Arizona sheriff found himself trailing hopelessly in a shot at a Senate seat, the Times took note:

Sheriff Could’ve Ridden Into the Sunset.
Instead He’s Taking a Beating in Arizona

The Times has an advantage over its rival, the Washington Post: it uses thinner type in its headlines, which allows for more words and more playfulness. Post headlines, in fatter type, can’t say as much. The Times headlines, if you care, are set in a font called Cheltenham in roman and italic versions.

The Times went to Cheltenham in 2003, abandoning what it called “a miscellany of headline typefaces.”

Tom Bodkin, the paper’s design director, explained, ”We wanted to appear traditional but less old-fashioned”–and maybe to fool around a bit too.

P.S. The New Yorker is not beyond waggishness either. Here’s a headline in its September 3 issue about Frances Fukuyama, the political philosopher. For the headline to make sense (or nonsense) you’ve got to know that he became famous with the publication in 1989 of The End of History:

Frances Fukuyama
Postpones the End
Of History
Mike Feinsilber spent about a quarter century with UPI in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Harrisburg, Newark, New York, Saigon and Washington and about a quarter century with AP in Washington, with a spell as assistant bureau chief and a stint as writing coach. He was a deskman, reporter, and editor and he covered Congress and 18 political conventions.

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