Debunking a headline myth

by andybechtel

The Buzzfeed site has posted a list of “25 Stupid Newspaper Headlines,” including this one that is supposedly from The News & Observer: “17 REMAIN DEAD IN MORGUE SHOOTING SPREE.”

I believe this is an altered image and that the headline in question never appeared in the Raleigh newspaper. Here’s why:

  • The story text is blurry, perhaps intentionally.
  • The story text has problems with indents and justifications that are inconsistent with the actual N&O.
  • The typeface for the headline is not one that’s been used by the N&O for all-caps headlines.
  • As the centerpiece lead, this story would almost certainly have a photograph or other imagery rather than a simple headline and text. This is a gray page that wouldn’t be published in real life.
  • A Newsbank search finds only three N&O headlines with the word “morgue” in them from 2000-2006, and none matches this one.
  • I worked at the N&O from 1992-1997 and 2001-2005. I don’t recall this front page or this headline, and I think that I would have.

The upshot? Don’t believe everything you see in such lists. Besides, with plenty of real headlines to choose from, there’s no need to use fake ones to get a chuckle.

So where did the fake N&O page come from? A Facebook friend points to the Brunching Shuttlecocks, a defunct comedy website, as the source of this image. If you happen to know more, please add a comment on this post.

UPDATE: This PDF of the front page of the N&O from Sept. 7, 2001, appears to be the one that was altered. Note the differences in the actual centerpiece.

FURTHER UPDATE

In December 2012, Lore Sjoberg contacted me via Twitter, saying that he had written this headline. Sjoberg, a humor writer for Wired magazine, then agreed to answer a few questions via email about the altered N&O page:

Q. Where was the mock headline originally published, and in what context?

A. The image was originally created by me and published on The Brunching Shuttlecocks, the humor site I edited and co-created, in 2001. It was  part of a series I called “Untitled,” which were just random image jokes: http://brunching.com/untitled-datearchive.html

Q. How did you pick the Raleigh paper to use for this joke?

A. I was living in Durham at the time, and the paper was around the house. Sorry, The News & Observer!

Q. Has it surprised you that the headline has been passed around as real and for as long as it has?

A. Yes and no. I’m not surprised it’s been passed around, but I am surprised it became as popular, so to speak, as it did. I didn’t realize  it until today when I clicked on a link to the Freakonomics site that I realized it had any currency. I do have to say I’m a little starstruck that George Takei posted it, even if he did so under a false understanding.

Thanks to the Park Library for assistance with this post. 

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