Across the sea of blunt, factual, Google-friendly headlines announcing the demise of Osama bin Laden, our own San Francisco Examiner did things differently. Its cover this morning announced "The Butcher of 9/11 Is DEAD."
This is part of a long tradition of, shall we say, colorful headlines from the paper that once billed itself as the "monarch of the dailies." When your humble narrator was a lowly editorial assistant at the paper in its Hearst days, for example, the head announcing a plane crash in the jungle was, if memory serves, "DEATH PLUNGE." But that was nothing compared to the subhead, which began "Crocs Feast on Human Remains ..."
Accordingly, when bin Laden struck on Sept. 11, 2001, the Fang-owned Examiner's front-page headline was -- all-caps and with an exclamation point -- BASTARDS!
But it could have been worse, remembers one man from the newsroom.
"That headline was Dave Burgin all the way," remembers then-Ex staff writer Dan Evans. Burgin, for those not well-versed on San Francisco newsroom arcana, was the Ex's editor-in-chief -- a man who supported himself on a cane crafted from a baseball bat, which didn't scare the hell out of his employees at all.
"The original headline, as I recall, was going to be 'YOU BASTARDS!,'" continues Evans. This course of action was quelled for two reasons: First, having a single word allowed the typeface to be larger. Second, it was pointed out to Burgin that the line "You bastards!" often follows "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!" Not exactly fitting for a national tragedy.
Evans was not in favor of the headline. As the years go by, however, "I've started to feel comfortable with it. ... It's very tabloidy, but it certainly got us noticed. It was one of the most memorable headlines of the day."
The former Ex man is now the editor of four Los Angeles Times community papers. When asked whether he will be placing the word "bastard" in any of his headlines in the near or far future, his answer was quick: "I will not."
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