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The worst opening imaginable

I’m at the sluice, preparing to open the floodgate.

The Associated Press moved this lead to an article on the number of People’s Choice awards going to the Batman movie The Dark Knight. The AP moved it as a bylined article, so that the originality of the writer could be honored. I omit the name as a point of common decency.

Here’s the lead:

LOS ANGELES — Holy People's Choice Awards, Batman!

It would have been 1965 or 1966, when I was a high school freshman, that the “Holy X, Batman!” construction was already getting stale from overuse. And the years have not been kind to it.

That anyone should write such a thing, imagining it to be fresh or original, is painful to consider. That someone purporting to be an editor should loose it on the world is shameful. That newspapers may have actually published it is profoundly depressing. But as editing is turned over to people who have no training or gift for the craft — or judgment is abandoned altogether — we can expect to see even more of this drool.

I invite you to submit specimens that have caught your eye. Top this one, if you can. Just the opening sentence or paragraph, please; we don’t want to the vex the readership even further with those well-wrought 250-word anecdotes that precede some feeble effort to get to the point.



Posted by John McIntyre at 2:48 PM | | Comments (14)


"It's Miller time and attention must be paid. No, not to the high life as depicted in those American beer commercials but to savour the stage work of celebrated dramatist Arthur Miller, the subject of this month's ninth annual Master Playwright Festival beginning Jan. 21."

Seems like the "Miller time" plays should be retired as well.

Oops, forgot to cite. "Miller time" is from the Winnipeg Free Press.

In a more charitable vein, perhaps the author wrote it that way, knowing it would get both a cringe and a chuckle. Just as with last year's "Get Smart" movie where people were waiting (I know I was) for Maxwell Smart to say "Missed it by that much." Sometimes somber adult realization must give way to guilty pleasures. Just as Tweety Bird said on occasion: "If I dood it I get spanked. I dood it!"

"Guilty pleasure" implies that readers (or even the writer) might gain some pleasure from a line like "Holy (blank), Batman."

I'll guarantee that not even the writer of that lede derived any pleasure from writing it, other than the fleeting and shallow satisfaction of having filed another story.

Catchphrases of this type (related to old TV series and the movies descended from them) can provide great headlines, too. My favorite example: City Pages, Minneapolis, summer 1989, a review of Star Trek V (directed and co-written by William Shatner):

Dammit, Jim

The reference doesn't work for the reasons you mention, but also because the phrase is not a part of the latest "serious" Batman movies.

At this point, most readers know Batman as Christian Bale, not Adam West. Well, they do intersect here:

From today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Gregg Allman almost had a few less silver dollars after someone broke into his southeast Georgia home and stole a coin collection, knives and unreleased concert recordings, police said.

I'm not a journalist, so I don't know if this is a good lead or not; but it made me chuckle.

This moved today on the AP wire:

NEW ORLEANS — Since Hurricane Katrina, the beer-soaked,
urine-splashed, puke-puddled French Quarter of old has been
scrubbed clean.

I have to say, I think this was done tongue in cheek, knowing full well it didn't relate to the present take on the Batman story. As an ironic homage to the original, probably the *only* excusable event in which one could use the phrase and still be allowed to keep their press card would be announcing an avalanche of awards nominations for a contemporary retelling of the hero's tale.

I did, in fact, consider that the lead might have been an attempt at something campy.

It doesn't work that way, either.

This is my favorite bloodsport. Here are a few of my favorite recent finds:

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Who's the fiance?
Alyssa Milano is engaged to marry a Hollywood agent.

Winning the Little League Softball World Series was great. But meeting the president isn't exactly Bush league.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- He did not pass go. He did not collect $200. Capt. Amanullah, a former mujahedeen commander, was held for 14 months in Bagram, a U.S. prison for terror suspects in Afghanistan.

HOUSTON -- We've got a problem.
I've been waiting years for the opportunity to write that. Only this time, it's not a cliche.

Let's abolish "the man cometh"

John, here's a recent lede (not from The Baltimore Sun, but from a major U.S. newspaper) on a story about handwriting. It manages to link a 12th Century poet to the BlackBerry, but never grazes the story's subject.
HAMDEN, Conn. - "The moving finger writes," says the famous Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, "and, having writ, moves on." Nowadays, the finger more likely is hammering away on a computer keyboard, texting on a cellphone, or Twittering on a BlackBerry.

from a story about a bbq sauce spill that closed the street to traffic:
"Nobody was able to cross the road Monday afternoon in front of Archie Moore's restaurant after 200 gallons of chicken wing sauce spilled onto Sanford Street."


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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