July 27, 2016

Article at couriernews.ca

Such is the way to the stars

Mr Barclay Walsh of Washington, DC is probably not one of the many thousands of readers who pick up The Courier every Tuesday, but he was good enough to write to us last month.

Mr Walsh is a researcher with National Public Radio in the United States. He was hoping we could shed some light on an anecdote told by astronaut Chris Hadfield in his autobiography.

The story goes that after Hadfield finished at the top of his test pilot course in 1989, a reporter from a Cold Lake newspaper wrote up the story but couldn’t come up with a headline. The reporter supposedly called the USAF test pilot school, who told him to call the piece “Canadian Is Top Test Pilot,” or something to that effect.

Sure enough, the headline read “Canadian is top test pilot (or something to that effect).”

After Hadfield’s book came out, the story delighted and amused readers and editors around the world. It was a hot topic on Reddit and has been the subject of several tweets and blogs. But Mr Walsh wanted to verify that the article existed, so he asked if we could find it in The Courier’s archive.

And so we did. But the idea that a reporter would need an external source to suggest a headline seemed improbable. Luckily, we were easily able to consult The Courier’s editor of the day, Jim Belliveau.

“You would think that after 27 years, my past would cease to come back to haunt me!” Jim said.

“I was the editor of The Courier at the time. We had the article set for layup, and I had a list of photo captions and headlines for our compositor. Often what rolled out needed to be resized or whatever.

“I wrote the headline, putting the ‘or something to that effect’ at the end, thinking someone else could maybe come up with something more flashy, less austere than ‘Canadian wins top test pilot.’ As things went down, the entire title as I wrote it went to the compositor with not a hiccup, was laid up and yes, printed as the headline.

“Admittedly, we did a lot of things tongue-in-cheek at times, and would often pass on fake captions to the compositor who usually caught them,” he said. “Usually.”

Oscar Wilde said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, so we’re happy this old story has surfaced. But until Mr Walsh checked in, nobody knew it was us.

So we’ll happily own this little gaffe, because as someone else said, any publicity is good as long as they spell your name right.