Good and Bad Headlines

Please find a good and not-so-adept headline on one or more news Web sites, and explain why you think so in a comment to this post. Please be sure to give the full URL and headline for each, as well as your explanation. Please be tactful and constructive: Don't write anything you don't want the world to see.

Due by the start of class Nov. 19.


Cory G said...


The headline for this Salon.com article is "Is Detroit Worth Saving?" It's a story about a potential economic bailout for car companies. I think this is a good headline because it captures the reader's attention - Detroit readers in particular would probably want to check it out, and any reader would be curious as to what in Detroit needed saving. At the same time, it could be better, since it's a little vague.


Several headlines on this part of NPR.org talk about the G-20, which is another name for the Group of 20 - "Eight Isn't Enough: G-20 Countries to Meet in D.C." for instance. This seems unnecessarily confusing, since it's possible that readers might not know what the Group of 20 is, much less G-20.

Michelle Lee said...


I think this is an example of a good headline because of its simplicity through the subject-verb-object structure. The reader is not left questioning what this story is about because it is a very straightforward headline. I also like the verb choice in "unveils." It is a strong verb that paints a picture in the reader's mind.


I think this an example of a bad headline because I had to re-read it many times and also had to skim the lead before I understood what the story was about. The headline has an unintended meaning because of its confusing structure. In the story, readers find out that the mother killed her child by cutting off her arms (so sick!), but the headline can be read as the baby who "arm-sliced" her mom is mentally OK. Overall, it is poorly worded and very unclear.

Marista said...

Online Journalism: Good and Bad Headlines

I found two separate headlines for the exact same story. Through wire, The Seattle Times posted a story from The LA Times. The LA Times, the good headline, said this, "Study finds obese kids have arteries like 45-year-olds" I thought this was pretty straight forward and told a lot about what the story would be about in a short sentence. The Seattle Times wrote "Obese kids' arteries signal trouble" the same story, but a headline that detracts from what the story is about, it could have been clear and concise, but instead makes it sound like the arteries are telling a story. I just think the first is a much better headline for what readers would be attracted to.



I came across another headline I thought would be a great headline for the "search engine optimization," (SEO) and I think many crime stories do this because they tell a lot about something little in a few words. This one, also from the Seattle Times said "Seventh severed foot found in British Columbia". If someone were searching for this story, (which I've followed) they would know it's in British Columbia and it involves severed feet being found along the shores, making this headline good for the SEO.


I found another headline I didn't think was very good, but would still work for SEO. In the Washington Post it said "Guantanamo Closure Called Obama Priority" while it would be good for SEO, I don't think the structure of it works, I especially don't like the use of the word called, there would have been a better way to format this headline, like "Obama calls Guantanamo closure top priority" or something along those lines.


Pete Wolfinger said...

One headline that I thought was mediocre at best was "Indian navy showcases rising might" in the Asia subcategory of CNN's "World" section. When I first read this I thought that the rest of the headline had been cut off. I thought "rising" was used as the noun and, based on the word "might" the rising may or may not do something. Basically, I misinterpreted the use of the word "might." If I did, chances are, others would as well. CNN should use a clearer headline without words with double meanings.

One headline that I thought was particularly effective was "Russian, British ships repel Somali pirate attack" on MSNBC's home page. The headline is clear and succinct. It also gives a whole lot of information. From these seven words, the reader knows:

a. the parties involved (Russia, Britain, Somalia)
b. what happened (pirate attack)
b. where it occured (on the water)
c. why the Russian and British ships repelled (a pirate attack)

Also, there is a general public interest in the word "pirate" or anything to do with them because of pop culture's Pirates of the Caribbean series and the notion that pirates were a thing of the past. Readers will be surprised to see the words "pirate attack" in a present-day headline. This is another reason the reader might be inclined to click on the story.

-Pete Wolfinger

Michelle Hora said...

One headline that I thought could have been written better from CNN.com was "Banks warned to stop hoarding" This headline does not really tell you who is doing the warning or why. It is in the past tense. A better headline could read "Congress warns banks to stop hoarding."

A good headline, found on NYtimes.com "Iran Claims Success in Tests Firing Long-Range Missiles" It follows the Subject Verb Object rule and is written in active voice. It is informative, but does not give away information in the article.

Pete Wolfinger said...

I forgot to include the URLs for my two headlines. The CNN one can be found at


The MSNBC one can be found at



Pete Wolfinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy Holzer said...

Good and Bad Headlines

"Army general is nation's first four-star woman"


I thought this headline was very good. It was short and to the point. Also, it is very good for search engines because it hits numerous key words of the article. Army, nation, first, four-star, and woman are all very important aspects of the story and the headline would make searching for this story very easy. It interested me because I wanted to know more about being a four-star woman and what she did to get the title.

"Second Life affair ends in divorce"


I thought this was a bad headline. On first reading, I had no clue what "Second Life" was. I thought maybe it was a Christian group and that is why the divorce was newsworthy. It turns out that Second Life is an online world where people can create fake identities who live and work like real people. Two people in the article met through Second Life, got married in real life and in the game, the man then had virtual sex with someone else, and both real and virtual relationships ended in divorce. A better headline might have been "Real Marriage Ends Due to Online Cheating" or something similar. The original headline is not good for search engines. There is nothing in the headline about the virtual, online world that is talked about in the article and "Second Life" is not a commonly known game.

Ian McCoy said...

The headline I found that I thought was not-so-adept was from a Washington Post Article given here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/15/AR2008111502438.html?sub=AR The headline reads as follows, "Economic Crisis Boils Democratic Message Down to Jobs." I felt like this headline was a vast over simplification of the platform that most democrats ran on in the past election, and portrays them in a false light, essentially saying that the flailing job market is the only thing that matters to them. While this is an important topic in most democratic agendas, and the article does have a subhead that says, "Health Care, Energy Still Part of Agenda" the headline and the article fail to give mention of other things that Democrats have claimed to be important to them, including the war in Iraq, social issues, foreign affairs, and many other topics. I think when writing headlines there is a desire to simplify a story into a few words, which essentially is what you have to do when writing a headline, but if you over simplify something, you can not get across the true point of what has been done or said.

Katie Shutt said...

"Astronauts End Space Walk Marred by Lost Tool Bag" - NYT


I dislike this New York Times headline because, although it uses good form, voice and structure, when I read it at first I immediately thought of a different meaning for "Tool Bag," which is a slang term for an uncool person. Especially in the context of a space walk, I thought this headline was more of an Onion-type headline, satirizing a confused space nerd. Since this is a new slang term, and the meaning was actually about an astronaut loosing grip of a bag with tools and equipment during a space walk, the writer and editors probably didn't pick up on it. But it definitely has an unintentional double meaning.

"Facing a Slowdown, China’s Auto Industry Presses for a Bailout From Beijing" - NYT


I really like this headline because right away you know what the story is about. I like the structure, with "Facing a Slowdown," first because it makes for a bolder headline. The story automatically looks more important because of the implications suggested by just that phrase. And the rest of the headline follows the proper, subject, verb, object form which is clear and direct. Because it is on the Web, the headline could be long. In print, we would never see a headline this big, but since it is on the Web this headline gives viewers more information to decide if they want to read the story. Since it uses location, "China" and "Beijing," which are both well-known, the chances of being picked up from a search engine using location, along with newly popular searches like "auto industry" and "bailout," the results would be doubled. I think this is a very strong, professional and well-done headline.

The Maker of Belgian Waffles said...

"Worker Dies in 80-Foot Fall at GWU Campus"

This here is a good headline. Its sweetness comes from simplicity mixed with unfolding drama: the subject does the verb, and death catches the eye as well; the distance of the fall adds another dramatic element; location adds a third twist. All the while it's simple.

(From washingtonpost.com, accessed 18 Nov. 2008.)


"Holder AG Pick 'Done' Deal"

This one is a bit weaker because it requires context. I heard an NPR report earlier in the day on the attorney general story, so I picked up on what "AG" stood for. Others less informed might not have had such luck. Besides, the extra tension of the cryptic first word (a surname), the acronym, and the added quote marks around "Done" crowd and clutter.

(From foxnews.com, accessed 18 or 19 Nov. 2008)


I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this examination.

Nina said...

I found an example of a good headline on AP's website--"UN: Clouds of pollution threaten glaciers, health." I like this headline because it is relatively simple, yet the audience has a complete sense of what the story is about. I know who said the comment; the language is clear and concise.


I also found one mediocre headline on the same website. I didn't like AP's "Images Captured of 4 planets outside solar system," because it is written in past tense. Headlines are generally in present tense and written actively. This headline could be stronger if we knew who actually captured the images.


monica said...

'Somali pirates transform villages into boomtowns' reads the headline of a November 19th Salon story. I like this headline for several reasons. In class we discussed the idea of creating headlines ideal for google searches, and this one is it containing key words like pirates, villages and boomtowns. It's straightforward, telling exactly what happened and leaves no confusion in the readers. But despite it's simplicity the headline maintains a nice ring to it.


On the other hand, the same website, Salon, also contains a headline that reads "Obamas's plans for probing Bush torture." When I first read this headline, I was confused. Is Obama planning to examine how to torture Bush? Did Bush torture Obama? The story itself describes how Obama plans to investiage "alleged abuses" under Bush. The byline also helps to clarify, but the headline alone is confusing. Not to mention the use of the word torture - to me, torture is a physical thing. But the story is not about Bush phsyically harming someone with his bare hands. It's about the mistakes he made in the War on Terror, mistakes that may have resulted in abusive interrogations of terrorists, among other things.


rdinallo said...

The bad-
"Consumer Prices, Housing Starts Plunge."

The brief for this story was: "Consumer prices and housing starts fell at record rates in October." I found the second part of this headline - housing starts plunge -confusing, and I misinterpreted it's meaning. I think the editor would have been better served to make the headline more like the brief describing it.

rdinallo said...

*The URL for the post article mentioned above is:

The Good-
Headline: "Golfer chooses honesty over shot at '09 tour card"

I thought this is a good headline because it's attention grabbing; you realize this it not a typical sports story. It's also clear and specific enough that the reader has an idea what the story is about, though they are left wondering what the twist is.

The url is:

Phil Hanabergh said...

Good- "Big hop forward: Scientists map kangaroo's DNA"


I liked this headline because it was a play on Neil Armstrong's famous words as he stepped on the moon for the first time. At the same time it is easy to understand what the story is about from the headline. I also like it because at first you think it is just going to be about kangaroos but then, as you read the story it is also about how close human dna and kangaroo dna is.

Bad- "Hollywood ponders global warming"


I didn't like this headline because it is just so vague. Hollywood stars have been coming out in support for solutions to global warming for years, and the problem is that this headline doesn't indicate any new news. The story is really about television writers in Hollywood meeting up to talk about how they can get a global warming message into their shows. But this headline does nothing to indicate that this is what was in the story.

chris said...

The bad headline I choose is "Spitzer Scandal Hooker Says Sorry To Wife"


I don't like the headline because when I read it, I thought Ashley Dupre (the escort) actually met with Spitzer's wife in person. But Dupre issued the apology to People magazine, not to Spitzer's wife directly. I also think the word 'hooker' is too unprofessional for a newspaper because it is a slang term. People who live under a rock might also think the headline meant Dupre said sorry to her own wife, not to Spitzer's.

The good headline I choose is
"Al Qaeda: Don't Be Fooled By Obama"


I liked this one because its simple and I immediately understand what the story is about. I also think the phrase 'don't be fooled by Obama' grabs the readers attention immediately.

Danielle said...

This morning, I saw a good headline at the very top of the Washington Post homepage that read "Obama picks Daschle as Health and Human Services Secretary."


I thought this was a good headline simply because it was straight and to the point. I understand what this article will be talking about, but it does leave me wanting to know more information.

Then, I found a headline from Salon.com that read "God Enough."


I didn't really understand what this article would be about until I clicked on it and read the first few sentences. It could have been about science and religion, or local churches, etc. I think creativity was held as more important than clarity in this case.

lkalter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lkalter said...


The link above is to a story from the New York Times about a tunnel that must be fixed without interrupting the water supply of heavily populated New York. The headline for this story, “Plumber’s Job on a Giant’s Scale: Fixing New York’s Drinking Straw,” is effective for a few reasons. First, the phrase “Plumber’s job on a giant’s scale” successfully grabbed my attention, because it indicated that the story was based on a large-scale issue and made me want to read more. Furthermore, the second phrase, “Fixing New York’s drinking straw” cleverly conveyed the story’s premise. I think clever headlines can often miss the point of the story, but this headline was successful on both counts.


The other link I have posted is to a story from the health section of CNN.com about a woman who lost 175 pounds and is experiencing the benefits of being in shape. I believe the headline for the story, “175 pounds lighter, woman takes flight,” is problematic. The primary criticism I have for it is that it is unclear. “Take flight” can mean different things. It could imply that she is reaching milestones and is improving her life by getting in shape. It could also mean that she was previously too heavy to fly on a plane and took her first flight in years. I believe the headline is actually referring to the woman’s recent ride in a hot air balloon, which would have made the headline more attention-grabbing had it been stated more explicitly.