Lucy Sisman’s wwword.com piece “Changing Times,” about the variety of headlines used at the NY Times, may not be of earthshaking consequence, but to lovers of print journalism, it’s pretty interesting—especially to me, who have been following the Times at least since my teenage years; I vividly remember many of the front pages shown, and I used to have a yellowing copy of MEN WALK ON MOON (with an apposite palindrome by Voznesensky: а луна канула [and the moon sank]; you can see it, along with an amazing selection of other Russian literary palindromes, here) until I had to clear out my parents’ garage and realized it was not in good enough shape to be worth anything and I didn’t want it cluttering up my garage. Here’s an excerpt:

Throughout both world wars the Times frequently ran long headlines, in bold italic capitals, spread across all six columns and running three lines deep. It hardly needs pointing out that these were times with a lot of dramatic news. By contrast, the headline on the morning of September 12, 2001, was “U.S. ATTACKED,” in capitals with no italics. “Italics give importance and vitality, but this wasn’t a time for sensationalism,” Bodkin says. The trend to shorter headlines started with the moon, he adds. “The line on July 21, 1969, was ‘MEN WALK ON MOON,’ and the first time the Times went beyond a standard banner head.” Compare this brevity to the verbiage of October 15, 1912: “Maniac in Milwaukee Shoots Col. Roosevelt; He Ignores Wound; Speaks An Hour; Goes To Hospital.” That’s practically an entire story in today’s New York Post!


  1. Compare this brevity to the verbiage of October 15, 1912…practically an entire story in today’s New York Post!
    On the other hand in 1975 when the News ran their wonderful FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD headline, the New York Times had FORD, CASTIGATING CITY, ASSERTS HE’D VETO FUND GUARANTEE; OFFERS BANKRUPTCY BILL. I like the way they managed to squeeze it all in by deploying a he’d, and to heck with formality.
    MEN WALK ON MOON and U.S. ATTACKED weren’t intended as information, they were memorializing the events.

  2. …and it’s interesting that my comment is so extraordinarily ugly. It’s because there are seven different font styles.

  3. David Marjanović says


    The Onion. The title page is stunning.

  4. That’s “HOLY SHIT.” Don’t bowdlerize the fucking Onion, man!

  5. Jean-Michel says

    Don’t forget the Onion’s immortal front page from 1939:
    (headline continued on page 2)

  6. dearieme says

    Why waste a syllable on “asserts” rather than “says”?
    Still, I do like “castigating”. Though “calumniating” might have constituted a more spirited defence of the city. What, the NYT doesn’t take sides, you say? Ha bloody ha.

  7. AJP: seven different font styles.
    I count four. In order, they are Italic, Roman, Roman Bold UC, and Roman UC. I’ll give you a half extra for the Roman Bold UC hyperlink that appears in color.

  8. “they were memorializing the events.”
    No, whoever wrote the headline was conveying a subjective opinion as to whether, many years hence, said event should be worthy of remembrance. Only a culture in which the past is a foreign country and the future has become a treacly, lucrative commodity can the headline grabbers so stultify the present.

  9. Actually Dearie, FORD, CASTIGATING CITY, ASSERTS has the whiff to me of schoolboy Latin translations. I bet the subs had all done Latin down on W.43rd Street in those days – or maybe not.
    Paul, I just knew someone would count them. Well done. For my purposes (ugliness), I was calling out the very small point regular and diarrhea-colored bold at the bottom as separate, but the point I was making is that the more one fusses with these things the worse it looks. Stick with upper- & lower-case regular, all in the same size, and unless you like Comic Sans you can’t go wrong. Consistency is best, especially on art show invitations.
    Hosepipe, no idea what you’re talking about. Sorry.

  10. The big NYT headlines in the old papers not only told the whole story in the headline, they fit exactly into the headline ‘hole’ at the top of the article:
    Note also, eight columns of print and a period at the end of the “The New York Times” banner at the top of the page.

  11. AJP Agincourt Mall? Really?
    Whatever’s taken you to Toronto’s ‘burbs?
    As to fussing with type, ken’s the secret; magic’s been wrought with ought but Times.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm. That would have been a great example sentence for us to translate back in high school Latin: “Having castigated the city, Ford led the legions with their baggage across the river and pitched camp in the forest.”

  13. dearieme says

    “Having castigated the city, Ford led the legions with their baggage across the river and pitched camp in the forest.”
    Whereinafter he took up bee-keeping.

  14. led the legions with their baggage
    Impedimenta! Boy, once you’ve struggled through the Gallic Wars there are some things you never forget.

  15. dearieme says

    What the city had said to Ford was presumably “Ershver tooni monhrr!”

  16. I think it’s interesting how the medium plays a role in headline selection. I contribute to a very popular satire website, and one of our tricks is to go with a sensational headline to generate interests and clicks. This is in contrast to some of the headlines in the wwword article, such as the simple “Obama,” which was chosen for its aesthetic quality. Maybe those kinds of headlines will disappear as print journalism gives way to digital media. (Or maybe technology will evolve so that digital media resembles print media.)

  17. The mall was serendipitous, Paul.

  18. The city’s revenge was even more wonderful. In the 1976 election, Ford failed to carry NYC, whereby he failed to carry New York State, whereby he failed of election.

  19. And all thanks to the NY Times telling the whole story in their headline! No, wait…

  20. “one of our tricks is to go with a sensational headline to generate interests and clicks.”
    Well and good when the stated intent is satire. But why is it that “serious” newspapers increasingly resort to the same sham headline sensationalism? How is it that tabloid prestidigitators with their yellow arts and illettrismes are increasingly the journalistic standard bearers?

  21. J.W. Brewer says

    Since Nixon couldn’t carry NYC during the ’72 blowout, it is fanciful to think Ford could have carried it in ’76 under any circumstances. The Carter-over-Ford margin statewide is not notably different in magnitude than the Humphrey-over-Nixon margin statewide was in ’68 (a more sensible baseline than either ’64 or ’72, both of which were aberrations nationally), making me skeptical that an unusually strong Democrat margin in NYC is what swung the statewide outcome, although perhaps county-by-county psephology might overcome that skepticism. What could have changed the national outcome in ’76 if a butterfly had beaten its wings in a slightly different pattern was Ohio, which Carter carried by barely a quarter of a percent and without which he would have lost the electoral college.
    One internet source says that Ford “struggled with” Latin in school (unlike Nixon, who was supposedly quite good at it), but implies that Carter may never have studied it at all.

  22. Doubtless you’re right, JWB. But it’s nice to think that Ford found out the leak was at his end of the boat after all.

  23. While scrolling quickly through the spam, I thought I saw the phrase “Fake Orgasm Sunglasses”. But alas, it wasn’t.

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