Where Have All the Headlines Gone?

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Photo: SplashNews

Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten (who won his second Pulitzer this year!) has a complaint about the way the digital news cycle has affected journalism:


My biggest beef with the New Newsroom, though, is what has happened to headlines. In old newsrooms, headline writing was considered an art. This might seem like a stretch to you, but not to copy editors, who graduated from college with a degree in English literature, did their master's thesis on intimations of mortality in the early works of Molière, and then spent the next 20 years making sure to change commas to semicolons in the absence of a conjunction. The only really creative opportunity copy editors had was writing headlines, and they took it seriously.

That's true: Copy editors (especially at tabloids) are strange, wonderful geniuses when it comes to headline writing! Weingarten continues:


Newspapers still have headlines, of course, but they don't seem to strive for greatness or to risk flopping anymore, because editors know that when the stories arrive on the Web, even the best headlines will be changed to something dull but utilitarian. That's because, on the Web, headlines aren't designed to catch readers' eyes. They are designed for "search engine optimization," meaning that readers who are looking for information about something will find the story, giving the newspaper a coveted "eyeball." Putting well-known names in headlines is considered shrewd, even if creativity suffers.

The headline that Weingarten says he carefully crafted for his column (appearing this weekend) was, "A Digital Salute to Online Journalism." Online, it reads, "Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga."

Gene Weingarten column mentions Lady Gaga. [WP]