Headlines

Most people don't realize that columnists have no control over the headlines newspapers put on their columns. Sometimes the headlines make me wince, other times they make the column more complete. Most of the time, I don't look. No matter what, I don't envy the editors who have to come up with headlines for my columns. It would be much easier if there were just a masthead with my name and "Down on the Farm" on it.

The Detroit Lakes paper puts my column on the editorial page with huge headlines. I can barely bear to look--because what I write usually doesn't justify a stack of 32-point type. When I write something more personal, which columns tend to be anyway, I would prefer if it were low-key, well-hidden--so those who want to find it can, but those who are expecting something a little more substantial on the editorial page aren't disappointed to read about my attempts to trap mice or something.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a trip I took to Atlanta. While there, I had a chance to play an enormous pipe organ, and I wrote about the experience.

Well, after I returned, I found out that one paper had introduced the article with the headline "Organ Brings Pleasure." Uff da.

But I don't ever complain about headlines. I worked as an editor at the student paper at UND, and spent many late, late nights attempting to come up with a headline that was appropriate--and filled the space. Not all of them were appreciated. My favorite headline came after a priest named Father Sinner (brother to former North Dakota governor George Sinner) spoke at UND about his opposition to US policy in Central America. My headline? "Father Sinner Raises Hell Over Central America." I couldn't resist! The reporter wasn't happy at all.

To make matters worse, a week later I was introduced to Father Sinner at a student hangout bar in Grand Forks. He had seen the headline. He was about as unhappy as he could be without compromising his priestly demeanor. He gently said that I might have made a better choice of words.

But I didn't regret it.