Why headlines have become the story.

Pushed for time, I’m skim reading again. Glancing down the story list on BBC news on-line I take in the main news of the day without clicking. Now I’m flicking through the pages of the Evening Standard looking at the photos and then taking 30 seconds to scan the underlined bits of the school newsletter. It is much harder these days to get me to stop and read the full version because there is so much media competing for my attention. So, in this busy busy world the headlines have had to become the story. 

Ticker tape news headlines now run across the bottom of the TV screen, on mobile phones, on bill boards and in school/hospital/hotel receptions. Text alerts are the one sentence headline that has to tell the whole story.

Now think about the way you use social media – Twitter is just a series of headlines and those links on LinkedIn and Facebook – do you actually open them or just read the top few lines that display on the page?

Once you get this, you know that you are implicated too. It’s not just about how we consume, it also has to translate into how we produce – because we all ‘do’ content now.

So make your headlines count.

Confusingly there are 2 approaches here. One is to accept that your audience is going to want to swallow the information in one bite, so you need total transparency. This has to be upfront, honest and factual;

2 dead in Solent jet ski crash

The other way in is to tease the reader into opening the link. Here you can try clever, funny and irresistible. It’s hard and it’s a gamble – so good luck with that. Ideally you can be both witty and transparent, handing over both a piece of useful information and an invitation to find out more – like,

10 things you need to know about social media marketing

or, The New York Post’s,

Headless Body In Topless Bar

There are puns ; “Diageo reports spirited growth in whisky sales.”  

and then there are just times when punctuation causes confusion; “Hospital sued by 7 foot doctors.”

But nobody can rival The Sun for headlines. In Feb 2009 to accompany a picture of a Kestrel and a Barn Owl  fighting over food:

“Hawk Kestrel manoeuvres in the park”

or on the marriage of Elton John and David Furnish,

“Elton takes David up the aisle”

and finally a Yorkshire tale of foot and mouth disease – not the Sun I think,

“Sheepless in Settle”.

Something to think about while you’re composing your masterpieces. Do you have any favourites?

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