While almost any fool can make news, it takes someone with a bit of entertainment or business savvy to turn news into a profitable business. Almost all sources that report on news are profit driven, generating an income through paid subscriptions and/or advertisements. Without stories that people want to read, watch, or hear about, revenue dries up and news venues blow away. Those that survive do so because they have been successful in holding their readers, viewers, and listeners rapt attention.
This week a journalistic icon, of sorts, passed away. Vincent A. Musetto, a former editor with Rupert Murdoch's tabloidish New York Post, gained fame briefly for a headline which he composed on April 15, 1983, to bring attention to a bloody murder than had occurred in a topless bar in Queens. A drunken customer, Charles Dingle, got into an argument with the bar's owner, Herbert Cummings, and Dingle subsequently shot Cummings to death. After raping a female customer, Dingle learned that another female customer was a mortician. He ordered that woman to cut off the head of Mr. Cummings - which she did. The head was later found in Dingle's car.
The headline crafted by Vince Musetto: "Headless Body in Topless Bar."
That brief attention-grabber got Musetto booked onto David Letterman's late-night television show - and the remark quickly found its way into pop culture - including a skit on Saturday Night Live and a crime movie.
Musetto, who knew at once that he had the headline of a lifetime. got cautious at the last moment and sent a reporter to the bar to make sure that it actually was "topless" - and it was. Journalistic sensationalism was saved!
New York City's other major newspaper, The New York Times, ran a piece on the same story under the headline: "Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect is Held." There is a reason that the Times is known as "the old gray lady" of journalism.
Vincent A. Musetto died this past Tuesday of pancreatic cancer. He was seventy-four. His body was reportedly intact at the time of his demise.