Case Study 5: Why headlines are so important

21 Feb

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

As a reader, you can feel let down or decieved if a certain headline leads you to read an article, and then you realize the headline didn’t accurately represent the story.

For example, the summary of the article “Falcons ‘won’t forget’ Saints throwing late for Brees record” would be the Falcons lost a game because of  the Saints’ Drew Brees’ last throw, which cost the Falcons the game and broke a record. It is an article whose headline is supported by the information in the body of the article, in my opinion.

The reader is not deceived when he or she reads the headline and decides to read the article.

The article “Brees’ record-breaking night tainted by decision to go for it late,” on the other hand, is one that is deceptive to the reader. The writer, Peter Prisco, begins the article with an anecdote about how a child told Brees that he hoped Brees would break the record. Prisco ends the piece again reaffirming that the child got his wish, but he adds his opinion in that it was an unfortunate way for the child to get his wish.

In the middle of the body, he includes comments from the opposing team about the late pass. Prisco tries to focus the article on the late pass but it doesn’t fit well with the anecdote of the child. The article’s focus, defined by the writer, is the fact that Brees broke the record and that the child got his wish.

The headline suggests that this article is like the former one about the late throw. Obviously, he is a columnist, and he expresses the opinion that he was bothered by the late throw as were players and Falcons staff. What he did was he merged what disappointed him in the game with an innocent and nice anecdote that doesn’t further support his point. It almost makes Prisco look mean. He “taints” the record breaking moment. The record-breaking moment was not tainted for the child.

Writers who do what Prisco did may not get much readership after that. Readers don’t want to waste their time thinking they are getting one thing when they get another. Also, perhaps the reader does not care for the writer’s personal opinion. The same goes for magazines that try to lure readers by announcing something on the cover. Oh the disappointment when you open the magazine, and what you find is not what you were told to expect.

Amy Gahran, of the Poynter Institute, said: “Online headlines should be intuitive, not cryptic, vague, or leading. That is, simply by reading a headline you should be able to grasp what a story’s about. A well-crafted online headline provides the reader with sufficient information and incentive to decide whether to click a link to read the story.”

Gahran states how headlines require effort. A headline like “Business backs college,” she said, tells the reader nothing.

The University of Iowa has a website with a chart of what makes a headline strong. An important element is detail. Not only should the journalistic piece be accurate, but the headline should be accurate in tone and thought.

Save and Delete said it can be helpful to plan your headlines first. This helps you maintain a focus in your piece as you write and develop it.

Not only do headlines generate interest and bring in readers, but they can also show a lot about the quality of the work and the writer’s mentality.

Fair: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting said, if a writer or media organization has a bias, this bias may be revealed in the headline. This is seen in the example of the Brees story by Prisco. He was obviously disappointed in the late throw, but that doesn’t mean others were. His unfocused headline reflects his unfocused article in a sense, and it reveals his bias. Fortunately, he is a columnist so he is permitted to exhibit some bias. Unfortunately, the headline doesn’t represent the piece.

Headlines are important. They may determine the response you receive from readers or whether they take the time to read your work at all.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: