A funny thing happened to the St. Petersburg Times

by Andy Boyle.

In my morning email blast from the St. Petersburg Times, I saw a column from Sue Carlton that looked interesting. After I read the lede, I didn’t feel like reading any more. Yet again, it was one of those “A funny thing happened (insert whatever your story is about)” ledes.

I would never claim to be anything but a mediocre writer at best, but even I know to stay away from this cliche, in both my ledes and elsewhere in my writing. (Someone, please, search through my archives and prove that I’ve never used this expression. Maybe I have? I am certainly not innocent from using cliches in ledes.)

So that made me wonder. How often does the St. Petersburg Times, my former employer and a great paper that lets its writers shine, let its people get away with using this phrase? I didn’t think that often. I was wrong.

I did a search using their “site search” tool with the phrase “a funny thing happened on” and “a funny thing happened” and I got back 24 stories and blog posts since 2000.  That’s, well, more than a handful. In a couple, the phrase appeared in the headline (one was just the headline).

So I thought I’d post them all here, because I’m snarky like that sometimes.

Why I might go to the Aerosmith-ZZ Top show at Tampa’s Ford Amphitheatre July 11 — Sean Daly, July 26, 2009

Getting “Brainjacked” with the two Andys at Clearwater Cinema Cafe — Steve Persall, Aug. 1, 2009

Dr. Ozzy is in…and surprisingly lucid? — Sean Daly, July, Jan. 28, 2011

The Mother’s Day Playlist — Sean Daly, May 8, 2008

Ryan (Benjamin) an inspiration — John Cotey, April 29, 2001

Air Supply’s Russell Hitchcock talks ’80s nostalgia and opening for AC/DC — Unknown, Aug. 29 (some year)

Cheerleaders get a taste of success at camp — Eileen Schulte, Sept. 3, 2000

For retailers, Hernando County no longer for sale cheap — Jeff Webb, July 15, 2001

2A-10 baseball: Bishop Mclaughlin hangs on through Tampa Prep’s rally — Rod Gipson, April 30, 2010

As the fuse fizzles — Bill Duryea, Feb. 14, 2003

Sorry, parents, you’re overrated — Robyn E. Blumner, May 14, 2006

A funny thing happened on the way to the exit — Andrew Skerritt, May 14, 2006

In IPO fee game, only banks gain — Editorial, Aug. 22, 2010

Hanging 10 with the Beach Boys’ Mike Love — Sean Daly, Sept. 3, 2009

Strawberry Festival brings big hair, big voices — from Taylor Swift to George Jones — Sean Daly, Feb. 24, 2009

Small plates, big shelves — Chris Sherman, June 27, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to health — Paul Swider, April 12, 2006 (To be fair, this is only in the headline)

Gerald McCoy meets a fan — in Rwanda — Stephen Holder, March 24, 2011

Everlast talks House of Pain’s reunion, Irish-American culture and playing ‘Jump Around’ live — Jay Cridlin, March 29, 2011

Nice win for Raheem Morris, but Tampa Bay Buccaneers should still give Bill Cowher a call — John Romano, Dec. 28, 2009

Class-size changes not dead yet — Ron Matus, April 21, 2009

Coconuts Comedy Club to throw weeklong party for 25th anniversary — Steve Persall, Feb. 17, 2011

Swimming: No conference crown for these champions — Derek J. LaRiviere, Oct. 7, 2007

Swing voters are indignant, not indecisive — C.T. Bowen, May 16, 2004

By reaching the Final Four, Sherri Coale finishes a turnaround — Antonya English, March 27, 2002

Distant dream real for Riggans — Dave Scheiber, Sept. 8, 2006

Cotey: Welcome to Jimbo show — John C. Cotey, Sept. 27, 2008

One bomb away from losing rights — Robyn Blumner, Sept. 9, 2007

Fed actions credited for higher hopes — Editorial, May 16, 2008

Sunday Journal: Nerves adapt as city’s fingers grab at suburbs — Liz Drayer, April 25, 2010

That pawn is going, going, gone! — Dave Scheiber, Feb. 24, 2003

Trimmed limbs appear to solve Brandon outages — Andrew Meacham, Feb. 29, 2008

Budget cuts are bad, but it could be worse — C.T. Bowen, Dec. 14, 2008

Are teachers underpaid? — Ron Matus, Oct. 17, 2004


So a few patterns emerge. I see some names repeated. I won’t name ‘em, you can figure that out yourself. Obviously with the deluge of copy the average reporter is expected to throw out these days — blog posts, 1-2 dailies, a weekender, etc. — I can see how similar turns of phrase would crop up. And especially with blog posts, which may not be as carefully edited by editors.

Oh, and yeah, pointing out this phrase in a newspaper is nothing new. Andrew Beaujon did something similar with the Washington Post for TBD. Anywho, I just found this interesting. Maybe you do, too.


Update 1:53 p.m. — I misspelled Dave Scheiber’s name originally in my first post. My apologies, Dave!

6 comments on ‘A funny thing happened to the St. Petersburg Times’

  1. Actually we’re all just HUGE fans of Larry Gelbert’s musical (starring the great Zero Mostel!) and we like to slip in a reference to it whenever we can: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060438/fullcredits#writers

  2. Alan Stamm says:

    Your Oct. ’09 lede works, Andy, because it acknowledges the cliche, freshens it and gives readers a wink as a bonus.Not bad for 11 words.

    It’s also more clever than corny, and that’s where Sue and other tilt the writer-reader balance unforgivably. It’s a one-strike rule, as your “next story” reflex confirms.

    The deal is quite simple, really, and didn’t change during the evolution from Linotype keyboards to iPhone keypads: We invest time to read. Writers apply energy, creativity and professionalism to inform and entertain.

    Falling back lazily on tired cliches (oops, that’s one!) breaks the pact.

    And yes, this type of rant really endeared me to metro desk colleague at The Detroit News. Worth it if a few try harder to write originally.

  3. John Jacobs says:

    Actually, a funny thing happened to me today when I came across this blog via a link and felt so compelled to comment about the waste of time it is for one to research how many times his former paper uses cliches in ledes when the writer himself admits to doing it, too. I’m at a loss as to why you wasted hours of your life away with this serious, hard-hitting piece?

  4. Andy Boyle says:

    I spent more like 30 minutes on it. And I never said it to be serious, nor hard-hitting. Just that I found it interesting, which is the main reason I put most things on the internet.

    More importantly, I at least don’t do my writing anonymously, like you did.

  5. SI Rosenbaum says:

    You think that’s bad, search the phrase “And [s]he’s not alone.”

    Oh, and welcome to Boston.

  6. Tessthefirst says:

    Andy, I see the Music and the 80′s boys are the repeat offenders here so I blame loud music pulsating in their ears to make them reuse the phrase to get through an article as they have been drinking all night watching the concert and all the girls and mosh pits and then having to trudge home to go write it up in time for the deadline for the mornings paper. I say this in jest because I don’t think Sean or Steve are like that at all but it just felt good to poke a tease. And yes, we ALL need to be reminded of when NOT to use those cliches, or try not to. I appreciate the article unlike one who took the time (how dare he accuse you of taking the time to doing something you were most curious about and didn’t take long but he had to submit his and that took all of a few minutes to login I’m sure – POT, KETTLE, BLACK. Wilco.) end rant. :-) Your blog makes us think and your simplicity is appreciated.

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