Writing Headlines for Print and Online


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Intended for new media and journalism students at Mercer County Community College in Prof. Holly Johnson's classes. This presentation covers the fundamentals of headline writing for print and online.

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Writing Headlines for Print and Online

  1. 1. Writing good headlines1 CMN – 131 – Journalism 1 Prof. Holly Johnson ©2012Portions of this presentation are excerpted from the Poynter Institute online at www.poynter.org.
  2. 2. Writing good print headlines is an art Good headlines can use alliteration (“Student stabbed while snacking Snickers”) Good headlines can use puns and plays on words (“Derby horse reined in after win” or “White collar criminal plays with dough”) Good headlines may reference titles of songs and movies (“How the mid-west was won”) Good headlines convey the topic of the article in a way that entices readers to stop and read
  3. 3. Rule #1 – First do no harm Have empathy for your subject. Do not use a headline to mock people who are down and out.Bad headlines:House fire destroys belongings, home andhopeHead ripped off of drunk driver in collision
  4. 4. Rule #2 – Head can’t contradict the deck The big type and the little type must be consistent in meaning, tone and content.Bad headline:School enrollment growsFewer students in the classroom
  5. 5. Rule #4 – Use humor carefully Humor and cleverness should not make the reader groan because of bad puns or old clichés.Bad headlines:IRS finds season taxingNew railroad plans are on trackMan steals clock, faces time
  6. 6. Rule #4 – Don’t make the reader go “huh?” Avoid headlines that are just plain confusing.Bad headlines:Fanny Wang On Ear HeadphonesReviewStolen painting found by treeMiners refuse to work after death
  7. 7. Rule #5 – Avoid jargon and SAT words Bad headlines: Students eschew new cafeteria food New York mayor swaddled by sycophants
  8. 8. Rule #6 – Use clichés only when they’re clever Clichés only work if you turn them on their head.Bad headline:It rained cats and dogs in PasadenaGood headlines:Give them an inchThey’ll take the yard(for an article on invasive ground covers)At Leavenworth they break out in song(for a prison escape that took place during aconcert)
  9. 9. Rule #7 – Avoid crash blossoms A headline that has a confusing double meaning is known as a crash blossom, named after an article entitled “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms (The article, from the newspaper Japan Today, described the successful musical career of Diana Yukawa, whose father died in a 1985 Japan Airlines plane crash.)Bad headline:Girls win 4-H prize for fat calvesTiger Woods plays with own balls, Nike says
  10. 10. Rule #8 –Ignore all the other rules if you have a good reason You be the judge: Poultry in Motion Tipped rig dumps thousands of chickens
  11. 11. Headlines for web and print are different SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization – theterm means the way that headlines are crafted sothat they come up quickly on search engines.To get SEO - use keywords that are likely to rate highon search engines including names of popular peopleand productsTo enhance SEO - position key words near the frontof the headlineAlso - use tags and hyperlinks of keywords for extrabenefit
  12. 12. SEO – CASE STUDY1 The Wall Street Journals web site posted a story with the headline: "Green Beans Comes Marching Home.” It was about Green Beans Coffee, a company serving overseas U.S. military bases, opening its first cafe in the United States. If you go to Google and keyword search "Green Beans," "coffee," "U.S. military," "bases" and "soldiers” the article does not come up. To get the article to be SEO it needs a headline with keywords such as “coffee,” “cafes” or even “Starbucks.” An SEO headline for the article should read “U.S. Military Coffee Supplier to take on Starbucks with Cafes Stateside.”(This case study comes from an article by Elinor Mills for CNET news at
  13. 13. PracticeDirections: Read the article topic then craft a print headline and a SEO headline for it. 1 – An article about a mouse found eating hamburger in the MCCC cafeteria. 2 – An article about a survey of community college students showing that those who spend most hours studying are most likely to stay and graduate. 3 – An article about a lecture at Princeton on race relations in the US that people left early because the speakers were dull. 4 – An article about Mercer’s aviation program being closed due to funding cuts. 5 – An article about a successful Rutgers band that formed for the sole purpose of getting free drugs and picking up girls.
  14. 14. END