By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How to write tabloidese

When they compile a history of great Herald ledes, this one, by Michele McPhee, is sure to make the cut:

Fugitive cross-dressing cop killer Thomas Shay taunted investigators searching for him in a letter to the Herald received yesterday just hours after federal marshals tracked him down at his mother’s Quincy home and hauled him away in handcuffs.

The only thing missing is the word “perv.”

Update: Good grief! It’s the day of the great Herald ledes! Don’t miss Laurel Sweet’s contribution:

A blood-soaked “house of horrors” greeted Revere police and firefighters when they answered an Elvis impersonator’s 911 call and found that the homicidal King had pinned a half-naked guest to his living room floor with a 2-foot-long machete.

With prose (and details) like that, the headline — “Fake Elvis: Suspicious mind made him kill” — is strictly anticlimactic.

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  1. Steve

    Hey, it’s Journalism 101 (which I admit never to have taken), isn’t it?Who what where when how?Textbook stuff!That headline is priceless, though.

  2. O-FISH-L

    The best (or worst) part of McPhee’s piece is the specious claim that “federal marshals tracked him down” at his mother’s home.In fact, on Sunday night it was a pair of Quincy Police patrol officers who handled two domestic violence calls at the home of Shay’s sister. On the second call, Shay’s sister was arrested and her infant son was turned over to DSS. Knowing that Shay’s sister hoped to retain custody of the tot, a Quincy Police patrolman was able to obtain from her the specifics on when and where her fugitive brother could be apprehended. The following day, Quincy Police apprehended Shay, but as a courtesy notified the federal marshals and allowed them to observe the arrest. Sadly, McPhee would have you believe that the marshals actually tracked this guy down!Dennis Tatz of the Quincy Patriot Ledger gets it mostly right in this piece.

  3. Anonymous

    Pervs typically refer to themselves as “pervs.” And the fact that he’s a cross-dresser is interesting and possibly even pertinent in that it may have helped him avoid capture.As for the lede – where was the perv/bondage tie-in with the handcuffs? You call that good tabloid writing?

  4. Anonymous

    McPhee’s credibility was dismantled on the air by Dan Conley on Tom Finneran’s radio show this morning. (After McPhee and the Herald tried to dismantle Conley’s cred on Monday.) If I heard Conley right, he said even other Herald staffers have told him she has no credibility.

  5. Anonymous

    Laurel Sweet is one of the best true crime lead writers I’ve had the personal pleasure of reading. I’d say she was worth every penny I pay for the Herald, but since I read it online…

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 5:43: Not sure if Dan Conley is dismantling anyone’s credibility these days. BTW, I highly recommend David Bernstein’s recent Phoenix profile of the D.A., which is online here.

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