Short and to the point

When I was editor of a small town newspaper and writing my own headlines (small town editors not only have to do that, they also shoot their own photos, choose the page layout and type up the occasional obituary when deadlines loom) it was a quite a brain-numbing task to come up with a stellar set of words that really packed a punch.

I had been taught that a good newspaper headline is short and powerful, crafted with unique and clever words that convey how this story is different than every other story like it since the history of the printing press. You could not write a headline like this: City Council holds meeting. That was bad, bad, bad. You could write this: Council eschews underwater skate park scheme. “Eschew” is a clever verb. And how often does a council get to do that while discussing an underwater skate park? Not very. And scheme and skate are nicely alliterative.

Now — generally speaking — small town journalism is packed with the seemingly mundane. Weather stories get front page attention. So do planned burns by the fire department, the fall musical at the high school and a new business opening on Main Street. Every now and then there’s an eye-popping indictment or a robbery or even a murder. After spending lotsa waking hours coming up with clever ways to headline stuff of the ordinary, it was actually hard coming up with a snappy header for a truly newsworthy piece. But I did it. I had to. Edgy verbs. Meaningful nouns. No extraneous anything. Word punch. That was the order of the day.

And above all, I had to craft a headline that made the reader read the first paragraph. That may be all they read of that story, so both the headline and the first paragraph had to say it all. Those two little gems (the headline and the first paragraph) were the hardest items to create and were often mentally taxing.

Anything that drains you mentally is memorable, and so that is why I am forever scrutinizing headlines. Even now, years later. I see an out-of-the-ordinary headline and I ponder whether I could’ve come up with it if I had to.

Today, on my Google homepage, this headline awaited me: “Bears eat man at beer festival.”

Wow.

Bears. Eat. Man. Beer. Festival.

Like, totally original.

The answer’s no.

Author: Susan

This post has 1 Comment

  1. Martin on August 27, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    One of my favourite headlines (and I am not making this up — I read it myself in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix) was… “Mandatory Sexual Harassment Guidelines Proposed”

    Now I suppose they meant that the guidelines were mandatory, but…

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