Headline writing

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  • 1. The Craft of Headline Writing Rachele Kanigel The Student Newspaper Survival Guide
  • 2. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 1. First, do no harm.
  • 3. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 2. Be accurate.
  • 4. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 3. Don’t just state the obvious.
  • 5. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 4. Write clearly and succinctly, using words real people use.
  • 6. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 5. Use strong, active verbs.
  • 7. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 6. Avoid bias.
  • 8. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 7. Capture the essence of the story
  • 9. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 8. Use the appropriate tone for the story
  • 10. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 9. Don’t cannibalize your lede.
  • 11. 10 Rules of Headline Writing 10. Watch out for unintended puns.
  • 12. What’s wrong with this headline? Law profs nix Thomas Avoid “forced” abbreviations and headlinese How often do you say “nix”?
  • 13. What’s wrong with this headline? Board of Education meets So what happened? Report the news!
  • 14. What’s wrong with this headline? Potential witness to murder drunk It’s confusing. Is the potential witness going to murder a drunk? Oh, I get it. The witness to a murder was drunk. Avoid unintentional double meanings.
  • 15. What’s wrong with this headline? Air head fired If an airline head was truly fired you wouldn’t write a flip headline like this. Be sensitive.
  • 16. What’s wrong with this headline? Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons Duh!
  • 17. What’s wrong with this headline? Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement Spell all words correctly!
  • 18. What’s wrong with this headline? Tiger Woods plays with own balls, Nike says Watch out for double meanings, especially sexual ones
  • 19. What’s wrong with this headline?
  • 20. What’s wrong with this headline?
  • 21. What’s wrong with this headline? Cop picks open can of worms Another confusing one. Make sure it’s clear. And avoid cliches, especially wordy ones.
  • 22. Some good headlines: • Dr. Seuss, man of rhyme and reason, dies at 87 • Inmate Flees in Boxers, But Freedom is Brief • Off to Seize the Lizard (for a story on the hunt for an escaped iguana) • She Took Her Viola to France and ... Voilà! (for a story on a foreign exchange student)
  • 23. Headline hints • Think of a headline like a jigsaw puzzle. • First come up with key words. • Then free-associate around the key words. • For feature stories make a list of catch phrases, movie titles, expressions that relate to the key words.
  • 24. After you have written a headline, ask: • Does it tell the news clearly? • If it's a news story, does the headline contain the latest developments? • If it's a feature story, does it convey the basic sense of the story? • Is it accurate and informative? --From the American Press Institute Headline checklist
  • 25. Headline Checklist • Is it compelling in approach, news angle and impact? • Does it contain concrete nouns and active-voice, present-tense verbs? • Does the tone fit the story, so that when there is emotion or a human element, irony or humor it is reflected in the head?
  • 26. Headline Checklist • Does it avoid the obstacles to clarity? 1. Jargon 2. Cliches 3. Obscure names and puns: Serious news stories should not contain any puns. 4. Forced phrases 5. Headlinese 6. Abbreviations 7. Acronyms 8. Slang
  • 27. Headline Checklist • Does it have words or meanings that are as precise as possible? • Does it make each word count by being direct and dense with information? • Does it play fair by trying to reflect both sides of a story if an opposing view exists, or at least avoid overemphasizing one point of view?
  • 28. Headline Checklist • Does it avoid danger of libel, take caution with sensitive material and include attribution when necessary? • Does it include the "where" when important? Does it signal any local involvement in the news when it may not be clear otherwise? • Does it avoid elements of bad taste, double meanings, exaggeration and sensationalism?
  • 29. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Inappropriate language or a tone that doesn't fit the story. • Exaggerating conflict, danger, criticism, etc. • Editorialization or words that suggest an opinion of the head-writer. • A "negative" head using the word "not.“
  • 30. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Inappropriate assumptions or interpretations. • Piled-up adjectives or other modifiers that detract from clarity. • Undue familiarity, often by using a person's first name. • Abbreviations or acronyms that are not instantly recognizable.
  • 31. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Assumptions that the reader has been following the story daily. • Obscure names that readers won't instantly recognize. • A "label head," unless omitting the verb helps the head or the count is so short that a "book title" head is the only way out.
  • 32. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Conclusions the story doesn't back up. • Jargon, which clouds the meaning for readers. • Cliches, which are neither creative nor compelling. • Meanings the reader won't "get" until the story is read.
  • 33. Headline Checklist – Things to Avoid • Echoing the lede or stealing the punchline. • A hard-news head based on facts far down in the story. • Puns in heads on serious news stories. • Putting first-day heads on second-day stories.
  • 34. Online headlines • Must be more literal – be wary of puns, vague references • Think SEO; use searchable keywords • Be clear • Ask questions • Be provocative
  • 35. Example • Bad online headline: Snowshoer, 66, survives weekend lost in woods • Good online headline: Mount Rainier park official: Snowshoer found alive
  • 36. For more tips on headline writing check out