Lesson 23: Heading writing across the gutter

Have we left this lesson far too late in the B-School of Journalism curriculum? Or put another way, is headline writing across the gutter of two pages not on the same paper reel – one that once truly tested a sub-editor’s craftwork, their words skill and their work rate – lost for good from the profession?

The answer, sadly, might be found in the example above from Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Take a good look at it for it’s a shocker. And it’s far from uncommon.

In the good old days, a trained sub would be required to write the left half of the heading flush left to start with and then hang the appropriate distance over the gutter. The heading then continued over on the other page in reverse. Left over the gutter and then full out to the right.

Yes, it’s hard to do. But, heck, it looks good! And sorta professional.

The SMH and its sister paper the Sun Herald often have examples where the words on the left page are set left, those on the right page are absurdly set right and you’d be lucky to see a bigger gap in the front row of a French can-can.

The cleverer students among you have probably already thought of a very simple solution to what’s shown above; namely to add Bad before erosion and at the very least hang the right hand side of the heading an appropriate distance over the left gutter. Would have taken two seconds. Simples.

Or spend a little more time and maybe “Byron Bay erosion forces” would fill out the left with a little kerning and “local business rethink” would be fine, hanging five over the left gutter.

We’d call that true gutter journalism!

Now there are several explanations why that shocker appeared in the SMH and why we’ll see similar examples all next week.

  1. The subs don’t care any more.
  2. There aren’t any subs anymore.
  3. The publishing software they are using doesn’t clearly show the enormity of the crime they are committing; or
  4. The SMH presses are so shitty and so old that the reels wobbly all over the fucking place and they’ve got no other choice then to set the split heading left and right so that readers can at least see it all.

And, just maybe, these subs if they still exist should be in awe of their colleagues working on London tabloids where each shift they are required to do a number of TWO-DECK headings (sometimes even THREE!) across the gutter and if each half of each deck isn’t exactly perfect – if, heaven forbid, they are half a character short somewhere – they are taken out the back and shot.

Well, they used to be. Maybe standards have slipped badly in the Centre of Empire as well.

Don Gordon-Brown