Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘Headlines’

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 … Read the rest of this entry »


Boring headlines kill readership, blogger says

In Headlines on 20 Sep 2012 at 10:44 am

I want to thank Sierra Vista Publisher Phil Vega for pointing me toward a very interesting blog post in The Atlantic this week. It concerns headlines.

Writer Conor Friedersdorf asserts that he is a lover of local newspapers but dismayed at the quality of the product he sees on the road. He takes particular aim at the headlines in these newspapers and mentions recent headlines he’s seen, including “Insurers: Redo annuity law that helps elderly” and “Homeless authority holding course through re-assessment.” He says, “The question isn’t whether you’d pay 50 cents to read those stories; it’s whether you’d agree to slog through them if paid $15.”

Well, he’s right, of course. We all run too many boring headlines. The most obvious reason is that we run too many boring stories. Bad stories nearly always beget bad headlines. It’s hard to put a zippy head on that story about the homeless coalition holding course. (But if you have a headless body and a topless bar, you have newspaper gold!)

There are other things we should all do with respect to headlines:

Use active verbs. Avoid simply putting a title on top of the story you crafted so carefully.

Don’t duplicate the lead. Waaaay too often the headline simply apes the lead, using the same noun and verb. That is just lazy.

Consider puns carefully. Sometimes I like ’em. Other times I don’t. Clever is in the eye of the beholder. More often than not, I would chuckle to myself at my cute pun and think of something else, but I wouldn’t ban them outright. The Wall Street Journal ran one last year that I’m still talking about: “Is yoga merely posing as exercise?” I love it! … Read the rest of this entry »

Toss out headline rules

In journalism on 15 Jul 2011 at 9:20 am

Recently, Argus Observer and Independent-Enterprise Editor Larry Hurrle listened in on a webinar focused on better headline writing. It was conducted by Inland Press Association. Since then, he has been kind enough to share what he learned with some of his colleagues in the company. I asked him to hold forth here for the benefit of the rest of us. Take it away, Larry.

The rules for headline writing have been around for more than half a century and, in most newsrooms, we are still using those same rules to guide our ability to put headlines on stories.

Rule No. 1: Throw out the rules.

Grumpy, old editors in a smoke-filled newsroom, who took copy to the linotype operator and told him or her to make a headline for the story, put those rules in place. To make sure those linotype operators didn’t get lazy, rules were made. Never use questions in headlines. Never use the word “you” in a headline. The list goes on and on. … Read the rest of this entry »

With headlines, size matters

In Design on 27 May 2011 at 9:01 am

Recently, I read a headline-writing tip from Ed Henninger, one spread far and wide in an e-mail blast sent by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Henninger is a well-known newspaper design consultant and has lots of good ideas. If you rifle through his blog, you’ll see that much of what he has to say about the various designs he runs across is pretty much common sense. Most of this stuff is stuff that you know, if not intuitively, then after a few years of experience with newspapers.

Anyway, the piece that grabbed my attention had to do with the size of headlines. Take it away, Ed:

Readers expect us to give them a sense of hierarchy on the page. Over the years, they’ve grown to expect that the largest, boldest headline will be on the most important story. Occasionally (see the illustration with this column), a lighter and smaller headline may be placed above the lead story if that headline goes on a feature package. But the lead headline will clearly dominate the page.

Henninger (and I) see a lot of headlines that seem to have more to do with fitting in the allotted space than they do with the story. Particularly on some inside pages, I see small but bold type high on the page, then a 55-point light headline at the bottom, and maybe four decks of 30-point in the middle. Just a jumble. What you need is a hierarchy, visual cues for readers desperately wanting to know what to look at first. … Read the rest of this entry »

Draw in your readers

In Design on 22 Apr 2011 at 8:55 am

Someone asked me about headlines the other day. That particular ground has been pretty well plowed over the years, but it’s important and so I thought we could talk a little about what makes good headlines and why others just don’t work.

Active verbs are the most important component of any headline. Too often the verb is implied in our headlines. We write boring things like:

Public meeting set

BB gun team on target

To me, these are acceptable, but weak. Why? Well, they’re lazy. If you want someone to read the worthwhile story below, “drive” them to it or “bring” home the news. Let the verb signal the import of the story. Let it move the words across the page.

Worse are the titles that have replaced headlines for some reason. These are acceptable in some feature or magazine-type treatments. For instance, the Anchorage Press ran a front-page headline the other day that read, “Native Enough,” with a subhead reading, “Story teller Jack Dalton bridges the gap between beginning and the end.” It’s a tale about a storyteller caught between worlds. I think it works, partly because of the weekly’s tabloid format but also because it is clever and includes a subhead that explains the story a bit more.

There are other things to keep in mind, though they pale somewhat in relation to the need for good verbs. … Read the rest of this entry »

Hank on headlines

In Editing on 19 Feb 2010 at 10:04 am

“It takes a dirty mind to edit a clean newspaper.”

So says, Hank Glamann, who is a legend among copy editors. Glamann was a founder of the American Copy Editors Society and an editor with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers. Somehow, a sliver of his wisdom made its way into my files in the form of an old two-page typewritten list of tips called, “Hank on Headlines.” I have no idea where I got it.

The dirty mind/clean newspaper ditty is Glamann’s way of saying you have to be ever-vigilant against unintended sexual or otherwise unfit innuendo, which can creep into headlines the very first time you turn your head.

Other Glamann headline-writing tips:

  • “If you get stuck, ask yourself, ‘Why are we putting this story in the paper?’ If you can’t answer that question, maybe you shouldn’t be running the story.”
  • “Don’t use obtuse acronyms.” (Glamann says “people did not even recognize IMF” in a reader survey. I am not sure many journalists would even get that one. So be careful.)… Read the rest of this entry »