After the JetBlue pilot had a meltdown in midair, her headline:
"THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN FREAKING"
Is that a great headline or what??
Deb, how did you come up with that headline? Did you sit in a cubicle and experience a visitation from Captain Kirk? Or is it a group process?
DEB PINES: At The Post, my team, the copy desk, doesn’t write the screaming Page 1 headline – the wood – every day. When the top editors are stuck, they come over and say something like, “Why don’t we run it by Barry’s boys?” That means my seven male colleagues (on most nights) and me.
Sometimes, the wood is a collaborative brainstorming effort with everyone calling out suggestions. Often – probably due to girly reticence – I submit my ideas on paper.
We all re-use old words or headlines (short ones that fit). Or we build on prior headlines or concepts. Or, in rare cases, we come up with something new and original. I owe part of my “THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN FREAKING” to an earlier wood written by a now-deceased colleague, Joe Cunningham. When a JetBlue steward in 2010 ranted at passengers then fled the plane, beer in hand, out an emergency chute, Joe wrote, “FREAKING FLYER.” I took the “FREAKING” from him and went from there.
HALLIE: Day in the life... what time do you go to work, are you in a big noisy newsroom, and how many headlines do you have to come up with in a given night?
DEB: I work in a big old-school noisy newsroom on the tenth floor of a modern Midtown Manhattan skyscraper. My shift is from 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. I’d like to say all I do is write headlines. But, alas, my main functions are far less sexy. I chop stories to fit the space they’re assigned to. And, in what’s often a mad rush, I try to catch typos, inconsistencies, misspellings and other mistakes.
Each night, I write between three and fifteen headlines. The number depends on the size of – the next day’s paper, available staff and stories assigned to me.
I can do many little postage-stamp-sized stories with one-word or two-word headlines like: Luftwaffler (when a Holocaust-denier changed his tune), Mazel Tough (when a family, denied a bar mitvah at the Plaza Hotel due to renovations, lost a lawsuit against the Plaza) and Eyeful Tower (about a different hotel that got cheers and jeers for allegedly encouraging guests to stand naked or have sex in front of curtainless floor-to-ceiling windows).
HALLIE: I inadvertently stayed in that hotel! I wondered why the room was so reasonable.
How on earth did you end up with this job?
DEB: I’m a former newspaper reporter. When I got bitten by the mystery-writing bug, I wanted a “day job” that gave me time and energy to write fiction, too.
My first “day job,” writing entries for a course-catalog from home, turned out to be deadly dull and lonely. My second “day job,” copy-editing a hip-hop magazine (where I changed gangsters to gangstas, players to playas, motherfuckers to muthafuckas, and so on) ended in me being fired.
Missing the camaraderie and adrenaline rush of a newsroom, I applied for copy-editing jobs at every New York newspaper. I got a try-out at The Post that led to the job that I’ve enjoyed since.
HALLIE: Headlines and short, attention grabbing, and pithy. Novels are 80,000 words long. Is there any cross-over in terms of what it takes to get it done?
DEB: Some similarities exist between mystery-writing, headline-writing and any kind of writing. Each has its own rules as specific as those required of writing loftier stuff like, say, a sonnet in iambic pentameter.
All require a consistent voice. For my mystery, I’m aiming to speak in my own authentic voice. For my headlines, I’m aiming to channel the voice of some leering old right-wing New York guy (who uses words like perv, fiend and thug and loves cheesecake photos of hot models and celebs).
HALLIE: You know, that wouldn't be a bad voice to channel for a mystery novel.
DEB: For both, I try to withhold something – saving a punchline. For instance, when a Post columnist denounced greedy unions, I headlined it: “Unions sing same old song: Me, me, me, me.”
HALLIE: Last but not least, please tell us about the novel you're writing. Is it about the news business?
DEB: I’ve just finished the first draft of my novel, tentatively called “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned from the O.J. Trial, ‘Law & Order’ and the New York Post: A Mimi Goldman Murder Mystery.”
HALLIE: Laughing! That will take the "longest book title ever" award. And Mimi is...??
Back at The Post
or she’s toast!
HALLIE: Well, we wish you great success with your novel -- it sounds wonderful. And anyone can tell, you definitely have a "voice." We can say we knew you when...
Deb will be checking in today, so please chime in. (Any books that need catchy titles? I bet she'd be great at it.) And I'll bet she could have come up with a much snappier headline than I did.