by Bud Buck
Newspaper headline writers across America, but particularly on the densely populated East Coast, have accused NASA of “trying to ruin us,” with the awkward timing of the latest Mars mission.
“For me, this is an above-the-fold feature from hell,” said Tim Lanyard, chief headline writer for the Baltimore Defunct Doorstep Times. “First thing Monday morning it has to be the top story. Everybody is going to be talking about this event that isn’t going to happen until 1:30 am Eastern Time.”
Lanyard was referring to NASA’s plan to land Curiosity, a car-sized automated rover, on the surface of the planet Mars. The attempted landing is the most complicated and risky extra-planetary mission ever attempted, and the space agency has spent weeks trying to manage expectations while simultaneously building anticipation about the mission.
“They’ve been promoting it like an action movie,” complained Tiffany Charmes, Viral Video Reviewer at the Hartford Au Courant. “Just look at this video,” she said.
“The production values, the dramatic music, the lighting – Whether the thing lands successfully or blows up, people are bound to be entertained,” Charmes whined. “It increases the pressure for us to cover it.”
But accurate coverage of this story is nearly impossible for old-school newspapers, given NASA’s timelines.
“There’s no way we can get anything about Curiosity’s successful landing or horrendous crash into the earliest morning edition. By 1:30 am, we have to have the dang paper printed and headed for the trucks,” said Jonah Perry, V.P. for S.T.P. (Stop The Presses) at the Boston Ink Stained Wretch. Right now, the headline I’m going with is ‘Mars Thing Happens!’ The sub-head is ‘Check Our Website’. It’s killing me to do that, but I’m nearly dead from a bunch of other bad habits anyway.”
Headline writers also ripped NASA for scheduling the showy maneuver so close to the mid-point of the 2012 Olympic Games.
“With a successful mission, the urge to go with something like ‘NASA Sticks Landing’ is going to be irresistible,” said Alice Strug, Manager of Originality at the Charlotte Breakfast-Placemat. “It will make our heads explode to avoid it, but we’ll have to. Conversely, she said, a botched landing will beg for some kind of auto-crash parallel. ‘NASA Car Hits Planet’ is a headline I’d both love and hate to run.”
All of this hand wringing is further evidence that printing current events on dead trees has become awkward and almost unmanageable in today’s constant news cycle. Of course, by the time you read this, up-to-the-minute and accurate accounts of what actually happened will be available online, which some readers will say makes this whole discussion pointless.
Maybe so, but my deadline was last night and I had to having something turned in. I’m not a morning person, so deal with it.
This is Bud Buck, reporting!
Bud Buck is a journalist of questionable merit. It is quite possible he has invented most, or all of his sources and quotes – something not unheard of in today’s (or yesterday’s) news environment. His work on Trail Baboon is featured as a favor to an old friend, and as a direct result of editorial laziness.
You know what really happened. Write your own Curiosity landing headline.