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Good headlines sell stories

A good headline grabs your attention and pulls you into a story – even if you’re not interested in the subject. Writing headlines isn’t easy. It’s challenging to try to summarize a story in a few words. After all, besides grabbing my attention, a headline must give me the news in an accurate, succinct way. The American Press Institute”s  checklist for headline writers outlines what a good headline must do. And Anne Glover, of the St. Petersburg Times, offers more tips for headline writers.  So I’ve come to appreciate a good headline – one that says ‘read this story.’  This headline on a Washington Post story about airlines and lost baggage does that.   

Your assignment: Read the links in this post. Then, find a headline that made you want to read the story – even though the subject may not normally be of interest to you. In the comments section, tell me what the headline says, where and when it appeared, and why you liked it. This is due by the beginning of class Tuesday, March. 10    

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  1. Jaclyn Tan
    March 7, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    When: Friday, March 6, 2009
    Where: News Extra section (page A8), Lincoln Journal Star

    Headline: Iowans say pork-barrel project passes smell test
    Subhead: $1.7M earmark is slated for pig odor research

    It was an Associated Press article by Michael J. Crumb talking about how an earmark for pig odor research in Iowa shouldn’t be taken lightly. By talking to residents, Crumb found out that the “rotten-egg-and-ammonia smell of hog waste” -is- a huge problem for people living around pig farms.

    I really liked the headline because it had a clever twist to it. The word “pork-barrel” referred to both the earmark and the pig odor. I thought “smell test” suited the story. But what really piqued my curiosity was the subhead and the picture of a hog right beneath it. Normally, I wouldn’t be interested in a story about pork-barrel spending, and I’d never associate the words with actual pigs.

    I also thought “Pork-barrel project passes…” was a fun alliteration that suited the tone of the story. The author did a good job of making the story humorous and interesting to read. I laughed at the last line: “To those who make light of the smell, Harkin extended an open invitation: Come to Iowa and take a whiff.”

  2. Amanda Bergstrom
    March 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I found the headline on Omaha World Herald’s website on Sunday, March 8. The headline reads ‘Drink, and despair, around every corner in Whiteclay’.

    It caught my attention because it sounded like a very in-depth and interesting story, especially for a local Nebraska newspaper. It surprised me that such a story called for such a headline. The story was interesting and the headline fit it very well. It was about the alochol problem in Whiteclay, Nebraska and the reasons behind the drinking.

    I thought the editor did a very good job picking out an appropriate headline for this type of story. It was both a newsworthy and a human interest piece, which could have been headed by a really dull headline.

  3. Katy Healey
    March 8, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Headline: George W. Obama
    Where: The Washington Post (online)
    When: March 8, 2009
    writer: Jackson Diehl

    The headline made me want to read the story because people consider George W. Bush and Barack Obama to be polar opposites, however, the writer of the article seems to think they share certain similarities. The article was an opinion piece, and I was interested to see what parallels the writer made between the two presidents. After reading the story, I found that he made a compelling case. The headline not only intrigued me but also captured the essence of the story well.

  4. Brittany Sturek
    March 9, 2009 at 10:45 am

    A headline that caught my attention appeared on the front page of the Money section in USA Today on Monday, March 9. It read, “Economic downturn may be pulling necklines up.” The story is about how struggling retailers are making more modest clothes for teenagers to try to spark some new business in the failing economy. The headline caught my attention and it was paired with an interesting photo. I’m not interested in fashion, and I hate reading anything related to economics, so I probably wouldn’t have read this story if it wasn’t for the headline. The sub-head “Struggling retailers widen options for teens, tweens to include more modest clothes” also helped as it provided a little more context, making an easy transition into the story.

  5. Morgan Demmel
    March 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Headline: “A faithful diner’s last will and condiments”
    Subhead: Bruce Lindsay loved Vanguard University and its cheap meals, so the millionaire left his estate to the school.
    Source: Los Angeles Times Web site
    Date: March 8, 2009

    This headline grabbed my attention because the writer used a clever play on words to explain the story. I probably would not have noticed the story if it had a different headline. I have never heard of Vanguard University or Bruce Lindsay, so I would not have read the article if I hadn’t been pulled in by this headline.

  6. Marcy Pursell
    March 9, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Headline: United, Newspapers May Stand
    Source: The New York Times
    Date: March 9, 2009

    I liked this headline because it made me think of the Pledge of Allegiance and being a patriotic American. I also liked it because it involved newspapers. The story was about how newspapers are also having a hard time economically. It went into detail about certain newspapers that are struggling, including the closing of the Rocky Mountain News and other newspapers that are on the verge of closing.

    I probably would have passed by this story, but since I’m majoring in journalism, the headline caught my eye. I wanted to know what exactly newspapers were united and standing for. The story held my interest and had me jump to the inside page to finish it.

  7. Katrina Fischman
    March 9, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    On March 4, I found a striking headline on CNN’s Web site that read, “Sudan soldier: ‘They told me to kill, to rape children.’” Though it is best to stay away from quotes in a headline, I think this is one of the instances where the quote is so shocking that it is effective in a headline. Using the direct quote draws people in more than, for example, a headline reading, “Soldier says he was told to rape and kill children,” although it would still be compelling. Usually, I would skip articles about the conflict in Sudan because I feel it is basically the same story in every article. I like how the headline causes a “What?!” reaction in the reader, which is fitting because the story is just as shocking as the headline. I think this headline would not work if the story was about more violence or new developments in the Sudanese conflict, but because the story is about one soldier’s horrific experiences and actions, the headline works.

    I feel the editor did a good job in writing the headline, but an interesting headline isn’t enough to keep readers reading. The content was intriguing, but I was distracted by the grammatical and punctuation errors in the story, and I almost stopped reading because of them.


  8. Andrea Vasquez
    March 9, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    When: Feb. 19, 2009
    Where: USA Today
    Headline: Investors are grabbing for dangled karats

    I found this headline as I was doing my media analysis project. It stuck with me so much that it immediately came to mind when I read this assignment. I love the “dangled karats” – it’s a play on words that’s not overdone I think it’s really clever.
    The story is about a spike in gold sales – even in the face of dropping sales almost everywhere else – because people want a stash of some kind of secure money source. The headline is not awkwardly written: It’s a full sentence, beginning with a noun, followed with a verb and indirect object (there’s an adjective in there, too, but that’s besides the point).
    “Grabbing” and “dangled” aren’t words often seen, as far as I’ve seen, and may have first caught my attention. Then the image got me, and still gets me every time I think of it. I have a vivid mental image of dignified adults leaping, one hand reaching up toward a bright orange carrot on a string that’s being pulled up just out of reach like a pinata by a big hand.
    Maybe that’s way more than anyone else gets from it, but this headline just does it for me.

  9. Rachel Sullivan
    March 9, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    “Man vs. Kangaroo Intruder” was the link on MSN.com that drew my attention. The full headline is, “Australian Wrestles Kangaroo from Family Home,” and the subhead: “Underwear-clad Dad hailed as Hero for Grappling with ‘Lunatic Ninja.'”It appeared on MSN.com on March 8, 2008 at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29593952/?gt1=43001.

    The link drew my attention first because it is an unusual topic. It is straightforward and simple, but effective. I really appreciate the subhead. “Underwear-clad Dad” rolls off the tongue and reads well. “Lunatic Ninja” further compelled me to read because it sounds hilarious.

  10. Mac Barber
    March 9, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Headline: Phish Returns to Feed its Hungry Fans
    Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/10/arts/music/10phish.html?ref=arts

    I was drawn to this headline because it is hilarious. They could have simply gone with “Phish returns.” Instead, they played upon the fact that Phish fans are notorious marijuana smokers. The headline makes it seem like Phish fans are hungry not only for a live Phish show, but also for actual food since they’ve smoked so much, both of which are probably true. I liked this headline because I thought the Times was very bold to go this route with the double meaning.

  11. John Ray
    March 9, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    What: “Churches need security experts say”
    Where CNN.com
    When March 9, 2009

    I was drawn to this article because I had no idea why churches would need security, they seem like a safe place to me. Aren’t they a sanctuary? Turns out there was a shooting in a church over the weekend in Illinois.

    If I had heard of this story, perhaps the headline would not have appealed to me as much. I hadn’t though, and to me it seemed odd. Even the story itself is somewhat odd. First you hear of a pastor who was shot at a church service. Then an expert says that churches need security, which is also odd since a church is the last place I would expect a security department or trained security officers to be.

    In Illinois, especially in the town where this happened, this headline may not be as grabbing as it is to people like me, who had not previously heard about this story.

  12. Mekita
    March 9, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    Headline: “Gigolo admits blackmailing BMW heiress”
    Where: cnn.com
    When: March 9, 2009
    Contributor: Fred Pleitgen

    This headline appealed to my inner appetite for salacious and gossip-like news, without the story being too tabloid. If the headline had simply read that an heiress was blackmailed, I wouldn’t have been as interested because, well, that just wouldn’t have been surprising. But the fact that a gigolo was involved adds an extra twist to an otherwise typical story. Ideally, an heiress — who is naturally in the public eye — would be more covert and careful about who she is wining and dining with considering her wealth. But apparently all that money comes at a price, and that price is intelligence. What a shame. In short, I liked this headline because it addressed the all-too real flaws that even multi-millionaires are capable of possessing.

  13. John Schreier
    March 9, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Headline: “Heading for Trouble”
    Where: ESPN the Magazine
    When: March 9, 2009 issue

    Ordinarily, I find the science stories in ESPN the Magazine to be too dry even for me. I’d rather read about what’s happening on the field that off it, but this headline, although it’s extremely plain, caught my attention. I immediately thought, “Ooh, who’s heading for trouble?” As it was, the story was an investigative report that revealed that women were at a much higher risk than men for getting a concussion while playing sports. There would’ve been no way that I would have read this piece otherwise because the subject matter didn’t draw me in. I appreciate simple headlines with a pun and a point – this headline brings both of them in because it’s vague enough to keep me interested but unique enough to avoid turning me off the story.

  14. Krista Vogel
    March 10, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Headline: “Speeding bill shows no signs of slowing”
    When: March 3, 2009
    Where: Lincoln Journal Star (online)

    I thought this headline used a clever play on words that made it more appealing than a generic headline about the legislature. I liked the headline because it gave a clear idea of what the article was about without giving too much away. Sometimes a headline can say so much that the incentive to read the accompanying article is gone, but this was not the case.

    After scrolling through many headlines about bills in the legislature, all the headlines seemed to blur together because they were all very bland and similar. That’s why I thought this particular headline was so great; it stood out among numerous articles I skipped right over. While the word “speeding” was a small grab by itself, the interesting wording in the headline was the determining factor in whether or not I would read the article. Because it stood out, I clicked on the link.

    The article was about support of the possible change in doubling speeding fines only when construction workers are actually on site. I thought the headline captured the subject of the story very well, and, likewise, the article complimented the headline. The article was informative but concise. The journalist and editors did a great job of putting together what could have been a very boring article and making it interesting.

  15. stephen youngerman
    March 10, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Report Details a Cold Truth: Homeless Kids’ Numbers Grow
    The Sacramento Bee


    This headline jumped out at me for several reasons. For one, anytime a headline mentions the results of a report I am instantly interested. I was especially interested in this report because instead of just reading, “Report states:”, it used language that would entice a quick-glancer like myself, “Report Details a Cold Truth:.” What cold truth could they possibly have? And when the headline reveals what the truth is concerning I am compelled to read more. Stories about the homeless are rare, and when a headlines include the word, “homeless,” somebody like me is more likely to read it. Although fairly straightforward, this headline intrigued me enough to read the story because it told me what the story is about while still leaving room for the story itself to elaborate.

  16. Brittany Claxton
    March 10, 2009 at 8:22 am

    “Lap Dances May Be Illegal”
    Daily Nebraskan, March 10, 2009

    More than anything the content of this story, which was clearly displayed in the headline, interested me enough to read the rest of the article. I was unaware of any legislation motioning to censor adult businesses with zoning restrictions and possible a “six foot buffer zone” inside them. The headline was a little humorous in and of itself due to the nature of the story, but it did simply get straight to the point and the article did reveal relevant information for the Lincoln community and local businesses.

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