Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why Are Headlines Left To Editors?

Here's T.A. Frank pointing out that he didn't write the bombastic headline for his article in the Guardian -- it's "The failed presidency of Barack Obama." And here's Michael Calderone at Brad DeLong's blog saying that "JournoList: Inside the echo chamber" wasn't his idea.

I've always thought it kind of weird that editors, not writers, generally write the headlines for articles. Headlines make a huge difference in how readers understand articles, especially if they're voracious speed-reading bloggers. It's unfortunate that they're controlled by people who usually understand the substance of the article in less depth than the writer, who haven't spent as much time thinking out clever and relevant turns of phrase, whose perspectives on the article are more likely to be idiosyncratic, and whose names don't appear on the final product.

I've heard people say that headlines are seen as a device to advertise the story -- that's what you use to pull readers in, so it should be in the hands of someone who specializes in evaluating reader-pulling phrases rather than the person who produced the content. But if that's what we're going for, we might as well randomly headline foreign policy articles "Lohan, Ronson Capture Osama" or "Obama Confirms Threesome With Olsen Twins" and have done with it.


drip said...

Today is the birthday of the author of one of the great headlines ever:
Hub Bids Kid Adieu

John Updike, RIP

Ned Resnikoff said...

I'm pretty sure it's a holdover from newspapers, when space concerns were a bigger issue--the editors wrote the headlines because they were the ones who knew how many characters you could fit into the allotted headline space.

Stentor said...

Ned's got it. What headline works on a story in a newspaper -- where it has to fit exactly in a certain box -- depends on font type, size, kerning, etc., none of which are the reporter's balliwick (sometimes the big frustration is finding *any* headline even vaguely related to the story that will fit the space you have). Headlines in newspapers are as much about aesthetics as about information. But your point is right for online news, where space isn't an issue in the same way.

TS said...

It's "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu", but yours is better.