This week looms Black Friday, a bizarre ritual in which people inexplicably camp out all night in front of department stores like Walmart and get jacked up on 2-liter bottles of Coke with the very real possibility that, at opening, they could be cudgeled or clawed, bitten or beaten as they rush the shelves for the last box of LEGO Mindstorms.
Walmart: There’s a new one on Martin Luther King Parkway in Durham where a lush swath of trees used to be. But the fact that Walmart routinely gorges on tracts of green space is not the only reason I refuse to shop there. Nor is it the chain’s anti-union stance or dubious labor practices. Those are all excellent rationales for boycotting Walmart, but for me, it’s more personal. I was, in effect, held hostage at Walmart. And not by an angry Tickle Me Elmo fan, but by Walmart.
I often tell this true story to journalism classes as a way of demonstrating how a small assignment such as reporting on the price of school supplies can turn into combat.
At 8:40 this morning, I was Voter No. 39 at Rogers-Herr Middle School and, with the exception of the poll workers, the only soul in the gymnasium. Early voting turnout for this year's Durham general election was double that of the October primary (5,039 to 2,298) but still pitiful considering there are 133,452 registered voters in Durham County.
The percentages were similarly low in Wake County, even though the turnout is twice that of 2009—and this is an election with municipal races in 11 towns and cities, plus the District 3 school board runoff. Will Orange County redeem democracy in the Triangle? Let's hope so.
We'll blog the election as the day and evening wears on, with results online tonight and in tomorrow's paper.
A year from now we'll elect a president, and God willing and the creek don't rise, it won't be Herman Cain. Pundits have criticized the women who haven't made public their allegations that he sexually harassed them. Even if they've been freed of their confidentiality agreements, I can understand why they would be reluctant to stand before the TV cameras and divulge the gory details of the incident.
I've been sexually harassed on the job twice, both times by superiors: once at a fast-food restaurant and another time at a record store. (This does not count the time when I was a cops reporter and a police officer told me—in very colorful language—that he wanted to sleep with me before I got married.)
"Light my faucet"
"The pun also rises"
Headline writing is an art—a lost art, thanks to Search Engine Optimization and the Internet—but those of us still living in the print world know that crafting a compelling "head" (or "hed," in journo shorthand) can be tougher than polishing 1,000 words of prose.
At the Indy, the section editors and I generally write the headlines, although occasionally a writer will come up with a pithy, punchy one.
"Light my faucet" introduced a story about the environmental dangers of fracking; and how could a story about the pun championships carry a headline other than "The pun also rises"?
We love puns, or I do, anyway—and pop culture references, even the slightly obscure. "We'll melt with you," which was written for a piece about climate change, refers to a song by Modern English. But it gets the point across even if you don't know the song.
The headline on the cover is often different from that on the inside because 1) on the front we have to grab readers' attention more quickly, and 2) there is less contextual information—other photos, boxes, charts to help the reader understand the article—than on the story page.
The web heads are recast for Search Engine Optimization, the enemy of all headline creativity. We have to put certain keywords in the headlines to increase the chances that readers will find the stories in their online searches—or be enticed by the word choice. This is why you see so many sensationalistic headlines online. (Hey Durhamites, wouldn't you click on a story titled, "Bill Bell's baby bump?")
That is also why online "Light my faucet" became "Despite the dangers of fracking, North Carolina lawmakers want to legalize it" and "The pun also rises" transformed into "The first Durham Pun Championship thrills—and disgusts—the crowd."
Sometimes I think of a headline and wish I had a story to go with it. Thus, at a different paper I wrote a food piece with the headline, "The age of asparagus." Because I could.