Strong and Not-so-Strong Headlines

Class, a reminder to please post a comment to this thread before the next class on good and bad headlines. Here are the instructions from your class schedule:

Please find a good and not-so-adept headline on one or more news Web sites, and explain why you think so. Please be sure to give the full URL and headline for each. Include a sentence or two of constructive comments. Please be sure your criticism is tactful: Our class blog is online for the world to see (although only the class can comment to it.) Please don't write anything you'd be embarrassed by if strangers see.

To refresh your memory on what makes a good and bad headline, please read the headline area of this Web writing handout: http://www.newsline.umd.edu/italy/writing.htm

And please review the headline sections of this handout: http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/seo-search-engine-optimization-basics/seo-newsroom/


Ana Sebescen said...

Developers Endorsing a Whole Foods South of College Park will Present

Link: http://collegepark.patch.com/articles/developers-endorsing-a-whole-foods-south-of-college-park-will-present-tonight

One of the first things that drew my attention to this College Park Patch headline as not being as strong as it could have been is its obviousness. While the headline is specific, it doesn’t make sense as a free-standing bit of text because it conveys a way too obvious action and it seems like it doesn’t have an ending to it. Additionally, the word “present” reads to me as both a noun and a verb and it confuses the meaning of the headline. It alludes to a double meaning between a group of developers who will meet to discuss the plan for building a Whole Foods store south of College Park and a gift.

Police, demonstrators clash in Cairo

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/police-demonstrators-clash-in-cairo/2011/11/19/gIQADMIebN_story.html

This headline – published in the Washington Post on Saturday, portrays an example of a strong, search engine optimization-friendly headline because it’s so simple, yet very understanding. The headline makes complete sense as a free-standing bit of text and incorporates several features of good web headline writing, including the use of comma instead of an “and” and simple, specific language that could come up in any Google-based search on Egypt’s uprisings.

Tim Ebner said...

Perhaps Scientists Like Lab Mice TOO Much

link: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/19/142517645/perhaps-scientists-like-lab-mice-too-much

This NPR headline is trying a little too hard to appeal to its readers. The capitalization of 'TOO' is used as an accent stress, but it doesn't accurately give us information about the story subject. Keywords for search engine optimization are also not present. The story cites an European Union study but does not mention it in the headline. It's also unclear how many mice are used for scientific research. A stronger headline would cite a specific number.

New U.S. Strategy On Afghanistan Hinges On Pakistan

link: http://www.npr.org/2011/11/20/142108020/new-u-s-strategy-on-afghanistan-hinges-on-pakistan

This headline is an accurate portrayal of the current war taking place in Afghanistan. The headline cites three countries, U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan, terms used for search engine optimization. The headline is short and to the point, and it furthers the understanding of the nations at play in the war in Afghanistan.

Kathy Johnson said...

Weekend traffic jams: ‘Love train’
Link: http://www.tbd.com/blogs/tbd-on-foot/2011/11/weekend-traffic-jams-i-love-my-car--13664.html

This headline, from TBD.com is grammatically incorrect, lacks attribution to the song, “Love Train,” and the double meaning of jams doesn’t work for me—especially when used with “train.” “Jams,” in this headline, refers to music to listen to while you’re stuck in traffic. The headline also lists only one jam, “Love Train.” “Weekend traffic jam” would have worked better, or the author could have simply added another jam to the title. Also, if you’re not a fan of 70’s music—you may completely misunderstand the headline at first glimpse.

“Police burn protest tents to clear Cairo’s Tahrir”
Link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45374822/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/

This headline from MSNBC.com is short, clear and to the point.

Jack Speer said...
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Jack Speer said...

Since I was already working on Slate I decided to stay there and it didn't take me long to find this doozy.

"Bank Lobby Plans Attack on Occupy"


I understand what the author was trying to say, but wound up with picture in my mind of a bank lobby, complete with velvet ropes, lurching towards Occupy protesters.

This headline is from CNN and is even more bizarre.'Ninja pajamas' or 'mushroom death suit'? Is it about mushrooms? Is is about Ninjas?, who knows. Heres the link let me know what you think.


Ellen said...

"Come BARK with us"


This is a classic example of the paper trying to be cute rather than getting to the point. Although we can assume that BARK stands for something, we can't really tell what from the title, and none of the words in the title would really come up in a basic search because the organization (Bandit's Adoption and Rescue of K-9s) for which BARK stands for could easily be confused with other types of bark. The title also doesn't really say anything about what the article will later tell us.

"Libyan Fighters Catch Qaddafi’s Last Fugitive Son"


This headline by the New York Times was a good one because it has several key terms for people searching online. It uses "fugitive," "Qaddafi" and "Libyan." These are all key terms and would help make it one of the top choices for people looking for news about Libya or Qaddafi and his family. It's also important that they noted the capture of his "last" fugitive son.

Varun Saxena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Varun Saxena said...


Nicki Minaj wins 2 trophies at AMAs


I don't think AMA should be abbreviated. Firstly, it isn't an obvious abbreviation and I didn't know what it stood for (American Music Awards) until I read the lede. This is a bigger problem for online articles because you have to click on the article before reading the lede to see what AMA stands for (scrolling on the headline did not bring up the lede). In addition using the full name would help the article get higher on search engines. AMA is a common abbreviation. It also stands for American Medical Association, for example.


Is economy best birth control? US births dip again


This headline is both direct and clever in that it draws the the reader in with an interesting question, while still getting the point across, that the birthrate fell. It uses the phrase "birth control" which is probably a common search term on Google ensuring that the article has a chance of getting hits on search engines. In addition, it is short. The author knows that everyone knows the economy is weak, so doesn't waist words saying, Is bad economy best birth control? Good job of trusting the reader.

Karin Zeitvogel said...

Just saw this on Yahoo:
NYC mayor: al Qaeda sympathizer arrested
CBS News - ‎31 minutes ago‎

Here's their rather badly written caption: "This police photo shown at a news conference in New York on Sunday, Nov. 20 2011 shows who authorities say is Jose Pimentel making a bomb."

Everyone else (which isn't always a good reason to run with something) was running a headline that said something to the effect of "NYC bomb plot foiled." But CBS went with this. It's weak and has an element of "so-what" about it.

The lead that is supposed to explain it is tautological and I have no idea what the last bit means.

Here's another dodgy headline: Carl Edwards a class act in title defeat
ESPN - ‎39 minutes ago‎

Carl Edwards' quest for his first Sprint Cup Series championship came up short Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tony Stewart won the season-ending race, and the title."

Who the heck is Carl Edwards? What sprint is he doing? Swimming? Running? The only reason I know what he does is because there was a tiny thumbnail next to the header.

This headline -- Parents of 'Adolf Hitler' Lose Custody of Newborn -- is misleading. They didn't lose custody of a baby named Adolf Hitler but of their most recent family addition. (Still... I have talked to these people and they are strange.)

Here are two of the better headlines that I saw today:

Poll: Romney leading Obama in Mich.
CBS News - ‎25 minutes ago‎

(Nothing not to understand there. that said, I haven't read the story and not sure it agrees with the headline.)

And this: "Facing Calls to Give Up Power, Egypt's Military Battles Crowds
New York Times - ‎39 minutes ago‎

Clear and to the point. You almost don't need to read the story.

Dave Nyczepir said...

Weak: U.S. pie-splattered comedian dies (BBC)

The comedian in the article used pie-splattering as part of his routine, but he didn't die with pie on him. The headline is misleading.

Strong: N.Y. man arrested in bomb plot (Washington Post)

Short and to-the-point, readers know what they're getting into when they click on this headline.

Drew Grossman said...


When Wenzhou Sneezes

This is a cute headline but it doesn't really tell the reader what the story is about. If you have been keeping up with the story then you will get it, but this will go over the head of the average reader.

Winners and Losers of the Deficit Supercommittee Deadlock

This is a good headline because it tells the readers exactly what the story will be about. The headline is clear and easy to understand.

Rob Bock said...

An example of a good headline I found was this:

"AT&T Investigates Attempt by Hackers to Steal Online Accounts"

This headline, written for Huffington Post, contains very clear, understandable language that describes the content of the story. It is easily searchable through the use of search terms such as "AT&T," "Hackers," "Steal," and "Accounts."

A bad headline I found is this:

"10 Tips for Managing Your Weight with Diabetes"

While the actual article itself is a slideshow containing weight loss tips for diabetic people, the headline makes it seem like diabetes is a way for people to lose weight. It is written vaguely, and could be offensive to people who actually have diabetes but don't understand the meaning of the headline.

Madeline Marshall said...

I thought I'd try to see how one site (Patch) was using their headlines:

The good: "Arlington Board Approves 10-cent Per Mile Taxi Fare Increase"

Clear, concise, searchable. If I searched for "Arlington taxi fare increase" I would find this. It also gives me all the information right away and I know what the story is about.

The bad: "Fresh Produce Becoming More Accessible"

This headline is far too vague for the reader to really understand what the story is about. The story is actually about farms donating part of their crop to food banks and the challenge of teaching people how to cook these donations. If I were looking for that information I would be using terms like "local farms" "food bank" "donate" and maybe "fresh produce" but the headline is so generic it wouldn't pop up under those searches. Something like "local farms make fresh produce accessible through donations" or maybe "through food banks." Either way, now the readers have a better understanding about what the article is about.

The ugly: "Yard Debris? 'Leaf' it to Arlington County"

Puns certainly mix-up an otherwise boring headline but my stomach churns a bit every time I read one.