Media Magazine

Headlines That Seduce in the Digital Age

Posted on the 08 December 2015 by Themarioblog @garciainteract

Headlines can make or break a story. They are the difference between luring readers to read the text or not.  Those were two of Prof. Arthur Sanderson’s key lines when delivering his headline writing lecture in our editing class at the University of South Florida, circa 1969.

That still makes sense today, of course.  But, if we had not more than 6 seconds to seduce in those days of print as the only platform, right now it may be more than 2 seconds max because there are another 20 interesting headlines--in two other platforms-- trying to grab our attention.

Also, the seduction process normally begins via social media.  It is a link we see that someone has shared with us that makes us react.

A recent  Poynter informs us that we may need to rewrite the rules of headline writing. But, how so?

The new rules of headline writing in the digital era

By the way, the headline on this Poynter piece is seductive in itself:

Most of your headline writing tricks don’t work, apart from these two

Two highlights of the study:

--Headlines using demonstrative adjective like ‘this,’ ‘that’ and ‘these’ had a substantially higher click-through rate than the norm. 

--Long headlines also did modestly better.

I can already hear the late Prof. Sanderson protesting that using too much of the demonstrative adjectives is not recommended.  Well, Professor, that may have been then, but not now, based on this study.  

As for long headlines? Wonder if that means headlines and decks?  The most seductive headlines now are, in essence, 140-character Tweets. It is through those that we get into stories. So perhaps longer is better.  Very few headlines from the print era would get to be 100+ characters.

And, as I have learned in my own Columbia class, don't worry about the old rules of not splitting infinitives or leaving dangling prepositions at the end of a line of a headline. Why bother? In responsive design, when the headline must adapt to the width of platforms of various sizes, it is not guaranteed that the perfectly composed headline would end up with each line exactly where the headline writer put it.

For more about headline in the digital era:

While on the subject of editing: here is new style rule

Headlines that seduce in the digital ageHeadlines that seduce in the digital age

Editing classes deal with more than headline writing. Style is also key and any journalism student or a certain age can remember memorizing all those stylistic rules from the Associated Press Style Guide, or another guide, for that matter.  What to capitalize, or what to abbreviate, or when to spell out numbers, for example.

There is ground breaking news this week in the area of style.

This time the style changes affect The New York Times and The Washington Post. In both cases, it is all about the so called non-binary gender identifiers. Last week, The New York Times included something new  — Mx.(pronounced Mix) — in a story that quoted a bookshop employee who didn’t want to be assigned a gender by the newspaper.

It was a big step for the Times, which still hasn’t settled on a definitive style for the word, Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke wrote in the New York Observer:

Meanwhile, at The Washington Post it will be permitted for employees to use “they” to refer to “people who identify as neither male nor female.” Here’s an excerpt from his memo to the newsroom:

It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.
When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.

TheMarioBlog post #2067
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