good and bad headlines

Looking through cnn.com, two headlines immediately stuck out to me.
The first, located at: http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/11/01/southern.drought/index.html, reads "Plea for Plan B in Southern drought saga." This may not confuse other people, but for someone who is very involved with women's health, Plan B is the morning after pill. I know that this just means plan b instead of the first intended plan to deal with the drought, but the wording is just off for me.
I also did not like this one on cnn.com: "Composite sketches released of girl stuffed in box" located at http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/11/02/body.found/index.html. The story following is a very emotional one that the headline seems to belittle. "Stuffed in box" is very insensitive to me.

As for good headlines, I found FOXnews.com's version of the article about the girl who was found in the box and their headline was "Texas Police Release Sketch of Girl Whose Remains Were Found in Washed Up Storage Box." For me, this is much more sensitive to the death of the little girl. I also found one on FOXNews.com entitled "Oregon Police Looking for Owners of Gnomes Without Homes." This was the headline used as a link to the article and the actual article did not have this headline, but I thought it was clever wordplay. I thought those were both good examples of a good headline.

Adrienne Kasper


bad headlines... and some for comic relief!

I really enjoyed the headlines listed below, from actual news sources (found on website: http://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/badheds.html). One thing I noticed is that legal jargon tends to trip up headline writers--appeal, case in just a few of these--because words that have a very specific connotation in legal terms have every day meanings that are quite different.
Another problem with a lot of these headlines that makes them so hilarious is the confusion over subject. With headlines, leaving out an "it" or unclear terms means that the reader is confused about who did what to whom. My favorite is "Enraged cow injures farmer with ax." Obviously, the farmer had the ax, but because there are so few words in the headline, it seems like the cow has the ax. I worked at a dairy once, and let me tell you, the last thing you want is an angry cow armed with an ax!

In terms of my headline, I found a headline from my hometown newspaper, the Lexington Minuteman, from September 13:

Word-renowed pianist at Hancock Church

Come on, Minuteman, that's an embarassing typo. (The reason I kept this paper was the police log: A woman reported that her vehicle was damaged while parked near the skate park. Her car, a hatchback, had a dent in the rear door that may have been caused by a watermelon. That police entry deserves a story!!!)

So here's a list of bad headlines, courtesy of http://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/badheds.html:

Something went wrongin jet crash, expert says

Police begin campaignto run down jaywalkers

Safety experts say school buspassengers should be belted

Drunk gets nine months in violin case

Survivor of siamese twins joins parents

Farmer Bill dies in house

Iraqi head seeks arms

Is there a ring of debris around Uranus?

Stud tires out

Prostitutes appeal to Pope

Panda mating fails;Veterinarian takes over

Soviet virgin landsshort of goal again

British left waffleson Falkland Islands

Eye drops off shelf

Teacher strikes idle kids

Reagan wins on budget,but more lies ahead

Squad helps dog bite victim

Enraged cow injures farmer with ax

Plane too close to ground, crash probe told

Miners refuse to work after death

Juvenile court to try shooting defendant

Stolen painting found by tree

Two soviet ships collide, one dies

2 sisters reunited after18 years in checkout counter

Killer sentenced to die forsecond time in 10 years

Never withhold herpes infection from loved one

Drunken drivers paid $1000 in '84

War dims hope for peace

If strike isn't settled quickly,it may last a while

Cold wave linked to temperatures

Enfiels couple slain; Police suspect homicide


One thing that I learned about headlines in print publications is that you have to be careful about what individual deck of a headline reads, especially if the decks are a few words each. This rule apparently also applies to online journalism.

Brother of Irish running back
shot to death

That was the way the headline read on the index page of http://www.chicagotribune.com/ on Oct.31. The headline was listed among many others near the editorial pods, and at first glance, just blends in with the others. When I first read the headline, I only read the first deck and had two questions: 1) Who's Irish and why does that matter since the brother is probably Irish as well and 2) where is this brother running back to? It wasn't until I re-read the whole headline (a few times) that I understood that the brother of an University of Notre Dame football player was shot and killed. What also contributed to my difficulty of understanding the headline was Notre Dame's mascot/team names; while I know that they are the Fighting Irish, but the use of Irish in this headline first gave me the impression that it was a noun, which is why I interpreted running back as a verb.
(story: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/cs-071030irishside,0,3206444.story?coll=chi_tab01_layout)

While the splitting of the headline into decks can create ambiguity, puns, if used correctly, can make a headline memorable while still getting the message across.

Iowa tax on pumpkins is no treat

That headline is from http://www.miamiherald.com, and, from a list of about 10 stories, it was the headline I noticed almost immediately. The headline is clear and concise while still attention-getting because of the play on traditional Halloween concepts such as pumpkins and trick-or-treating. This play on words also makes the story more timely in that readers know immediately that the story will in some way relate to Halloween.
(story: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation/AP/story/290551.html)
(headline list: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation/)

Questionable Headline -- Washington Post Oct. 30 Issue

After reviewing some of the stories in the online edition of the Washington Post, I found a couple of headlines that left me questioning what the stories would be about.

One headline read "Fortunes of Executive, Saftey Official Entwined in Pr. George's County". This story did not leave me questioning the nature of the story as much as it appeared to be misleading. From the title I expected that the story may have somehting to do with financial gain or money. I could be overestimating the words but I would not have thought the story would have been based largely on the professional gains of two Prince George's County public officails. The problem with this headline is the ambiguity in the word "fortunes." The writer meant for the word fortunes to be synonymous with the word "future." This headline could have been reconstructed in a way that limits ambiguity in the word choice. I believe there should be a focus on the relationship and the official positions. My suggestion for a headline for that story is Pr. George's Co. Officails' Relationship Is Under Specualation . Even that headline could be tighter but the is no question about the nature or expectation of the information in the story.

The next headline I saw that could have been revised reads "Noise Sensors Back Police In Teen Shooting." I think the word "back" could have been exchanged for "Support" or something else that limits the need for the reader to use contect clues in the headline. I had to read the headline a second time in order to underestand that the term "Back" was being used synonymously with the term "support" or "reinforces" this headline is not bad, it could (in my opinion) be written in a way that minimizes ambiguity and possible confusion.


Good and Bad Headlines

I looked through today's Post to see if I found any headlines that I didn't like. While I didn't find anything that posed a major factual problem, as many of the examples we typically see for "bad headlines" do, I saw one that I didn't find to be effective and easily readable.

The headline reads: Weary, Wary Lawmakers See Compromise as Way Forward.

First off, I had a problem with the forced alliteration in this headline. I think they're trying to be cute with it, but being that this is not a feature story, I don't think it's appropriate. Furthermore, I think their attempt at alliteration and their excessive use of adjectives takes away space that could be used to describe which lawmakers the story is about or what they are going forward from/to. Someone who reads this headline would not get an accurate grasp of what the article is going to be about, and in that respect, I think this headline is a failure.

A headline from the Post that I think was successful in using alliteration is "Preteens Trading Fairy Wands for Fishnets."

I think this article pulls off the alliteration because of the fact that it is a featurey article. It also accurately describes what the article is about--a movement of preteens costumes from innocent to racy.

Good Headline/ Bad Headline

I was searching for bad headlines, and I found this one from the Cornell Daily Sun: "Colbert Brings Satire, T-Shirt Gun to Barton Hall" http://cornellsun.com/node/25260

I think it's kind of a confusing headline because it's meaningless at first glance and doesn't provide much insight into the story. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't understand the "T-shirt gun" part until reading the article and realizing the headline referred to a T-shirt launcher. During a visit to Cornell University, Stephen Colbert used a t-shirt launcher as part of the show. I've never heard of a t-shirt launcher referred to as a t-shirt gun, so I think the more common name would avoid confusion and be more appropriate for the headline.

An example I found of a good headline is "Mukasey Unsure About Legality of Waterboarding" from the Washington Post. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/washington/31CND-mukasey.html?_r=1&ref=us&oref=slogin

This headline is straight to the point, and you don't even have to read the story to know what it's about. In the article Michael Mukasey denounced waterboarding but said he had to "review the legality" of all interrogation techniques. The headline is in present tense and has an appropriate tone for the story. Also, very important terms like "Mukasey" and "waterboarding," could easily be searched to produce this article.