Wick Communications

The $64M question

In Headlines on 17 May 2013 at 8:25 am


Daily Iberian Managing Editor Jeff Zeringue wrote me the other day with a good question: When is it acceptable to use strange abbreviations or acronyms in headlines?

He said there was a discussion in his newsroom about the use of “4 y.-o.” in a headline. While the consensus formed against that tortured bit of almost English, he said they were less sure of some more recognizable headline shortcuts, such as “M” for million.

“(Publisher Will Chapman’s) question was what happens when M means ‘thousand’ as in CPM: cost per thousand? And what about the use of K for thousand as in $10K?” Jeff asked. “All this shorthand might be convenient when used, but a is it chargeable offense to some?”

Well, what do you think?

Obviously, the prime reason for a headline is to convey, in a matter of a few words, what is in the story. It must be clear and accurate. It seems to me that shorthand that can be misconstrued subverts that message.

I notice something similar about both of the examples Jeff forwards. They are attempting to convey something very specific – “$1 million” and “4-year-old.” Sometimes, I think, you can avoid confusion by being less specific.

For instance, instead of:

City pays

$1M for

new bridge


How about:


City pays

for bridge

in 2014 …

Perhaps you can include those details on cost in the subhead.

Conversely, seek a spot in the layout that has more room for the headline. Avoid trying to explain those complex stories in 60 point across a mere two columns.

Then there are local exceptions. For instance, we use “HMB” for Half Moon Bay in headlines, but never in the body of stories. I think we get away with this because there aren’t too many city names that span three words and HMB is a very common way for locals to refer to their town.

The short answer: Aim for comprehension.



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