Monday, May 03, 2010


One of the first things they teach you in Newspaper School is how to write headlines. It’s a tricky business.

You have to convey a lot of information in a short space, and you have to make sure the headline looks good on the page. Two-line headlines have to be written so that there is a natural conceptual break between the lines; the lines must also be the right length to fit the column. Awkwardness is a constant danger.

Headlines should use the active voice. In addition, they have a few stylistic quirks that differentiate them from body text. One example: Quotes are enclosed in single, rather than double, quotation marks.

Avoid “headlinese”... unless you write for Variety, where headlines like “Mick, Nick nix pix” are part of the house style. Resist the urge to get cute or to editorialize. And watch out for double entendres. A headline like “Textron Inc. Makes Offer To Screw Co. Stockholders” (a real example) is not going to please the folks at Textron - or at the screw company.

It’s a lot of rules to remember, so it isn’t too surprising when someone messes up: an epic fail by the Woonsocket (Rhode Island) Call, indeed.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora colander to Ole Phat Stu for the link.]

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