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How to Write Tabloid Newspaper Headlines

by Bruce Lansky

Most kids have seen tabloid newspaper headlines in supermarket checkout lines or on newsstands, and they know a lot of crazy stuff is printed as "news." Now they can turn on their creativity and write some wacky newspaper headlines of their own.

Here are some wacky newspaper headlines formatted like a poem from an anthology called The Onion's Finest News Reporting. (The Onion calls itself "the world's most popular humor periodical." I agree.)

Headlines from The Onion's Finest News Reporting

Microsoft Patents Ones, Zeroes
Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia
Civil War Enthusiasts Burn Atlanta to the Ground
Cop Kills Own Partner, Vows to Track Self Down
Mother Theresa Sent to Hell in Wacky Afterlife Mix-up
Giant Six-Year -Old Devastates Area Ant Colony
--The Onion

Though you might find some (or all) of the headlines hilarious, I don't think you would call them a "poem." It's just a list of headlines that don't add up to a unified story or point. But if I add one more headline to it, I might change your mind. What do you think?

Not Exactly the News

Microsoft Patents Ones, Zeroes
Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia
Civil War Enthusiasts Burn Atlanta to the Ground
Cop Kills Own Partner, Vows to Track Self Down
Mother Theresa Sent to Hell in Wacky Afterlife Mix-Up
Giant Six-Year-Old Devastates Area Ant Colony
Former Times Editor Offered Writing Gig by Letterman

--Bruce Lansky
(with lots of help from The Onion)

The second version suggests a Times editor lost his newspaper job for tampering with the front page, but landed an even better job writing for The Late Show with David Letterman. The addition of one more headline turned this list of fabricated headlines into a story, which makes it more like a poem.

I'm not suggesting you share these creations with your students, unless they're in high school or college. Here's a version I think might work better with elementary- and middle-school students:

Caught in the Act

Elvis Sighted in Wax Museum
Shaquille O'Neal's Parents Are Pygmies
Shrek Ending Changed: Beautiful Princess Now Marries Handsome Prince
President Bush Asks Vice President Cheney: "Where Exactly Is Afghanistan?"
High School Hackers Arrested: Changed New York Times Front Page

--Bruce Lansky
© 2002

Well, there you have it. To "sell" this exercise to your students, find a copy of the National Enquirer or The Onion. Read a few headlines to your students and see what they can come up with. Have them mix and match headlines. Have them find a headline with a celebrity's name, and replace it with their friend's name or even your name. Ask them to make up headlines they'd like to see in the future.

When they have several headlines, have them make a final headline that ties all the other headlines into a story. There are many possibilities: Did someone change the headlines at the local newspaper? Are the people at the news station having a little fun with the viewers? Is it April Fool's Day? Backwards Day? A dream?

Once you start it, this creative train will be awfully hard to stop!

--Bruce Lansky

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