Words everyone reads

This is a headline.

It turns out that headlines are pretty important things for a lot of reasons.

I get a lot of students who enroll in J-school because they want to write. But it turns that, for traditional media at least, the words that get read the most aren’t the carefully crafted copy that the person with the byline wrote. Nope. It’s the headline, which is typically written by an editor. Next most? The photo captions, which are written by the photographer (hopefully), and if not, by the editor as well. Yet few people want to be editors.

Even though we’re rapidly moving away from the old media models, there are still things that old media techniques do for your new media headlines.

  • Headlines sell your story
  • Headlines summarize your story
  • Headlines let readers judge how much they want to read what you’ve got

Selling the story

Hey, baby, come read my copy. Come on, you know you want to. Selling the story is the headline’s duty of making the attached element interesting. Usually, this is done by tone. Compare The New York Times’ headlines on any given day. Right now, the top two are “With bags of cash, CIA seeks influence in Afghanistan” and “Hope fades for survivors in Bangladesh”. These headlines are serious and straightforward in tone. Don’t get me wrong, they are still good. There’s a lot of thoughtful word choices in things like “bags of cash” and “fades”. But still, I read that and I think I am going to get a well-thought-out, careful summary of the related issues.

Compare this to the sexier headline prose of a tabloid like , The New York Post, which has a lot of sass it its two and three-word headlines. I read something like the famous “Anthrax This headline”, and I know that I’m getting some fun along with my facts.

Learn more

Roy Peter Clark from the Poynter Institute writes about sassy headlines in his post on the news training institute’s blog.

Up next…Summarizing your story for the humans and the robots

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