In all of the newspapers where I’ve worked, editors always seemed to be hyper-vigilant against the possibility that somebody might sneak a literary reference past them. Something that might actually appeal to actual readers, God forbid. So I’m astonished to see this Boston Globe headline about the meteor explosion in Russia:
Jim Romenesko bird-dogged it (and J.D. Rhoades spread the word). Of course it’s the opening sentence of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow, a certified classic of American literature. It’s a very clever idea for a headline. It’s also a very intellectual idea for a headline, which makes it all the more astonishing that it got through. It took me a while to grasp that in a newsroom, being called an “intellectual” is not quite an insult, but certainly far from a compliment. Old school newsies liked to imagine themselves sitting on a barstool next to Slats Grobnik, too busy talking sports and insider politics to bother with pishy-poshy ivory tower stuff. I pissed away entirely too much time arguing with editors who never saw a baseball reference they didn’t like, but would have had multiple aneurysms at the mere thought of a Thomas Pynchon reference tip-toeing into their news columns.
But enough of my joy. Let’s just note the classy touch on the Boston Globe story, and hope the headline writer doesn’t get in hot water.