Newspaper headlines are the first thing that a reader sees, it has to give the reader enough information that they are tempted to read the whole article.
They are designed to be short and attention grabbing as the Newspaper thrives on people buying it.
Imagine being the journalist that had to write the headline for the sinking of the Titanic on the 16th of April 1912.
The New York Times had as their headline:
“Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg” [16th April 1912]
In my opinion this gives the most important information in one sentence and invites you to read more to find out more.
Headlines often use a set of grammatical rules called Headlinese. They tend to leave out the verb “to be” and choose short verbs. They do this because of the limited space they have for a headline. Headlines can also use humour, puns, alliteration or other types of word play to grab the attention of the reader.
How about this headline from the Evening Standard in 1969, “The First Footstep”
It might not mean much to you now, but at the time it was the most talked about event, it’s still talked about today. The headline is about Neil Armstrong walking on the moon for the first time.
Headlines must be appropriate for the circumstances, this one is a good example.
The Daily News: “Diana Dead” [31st August 1997]
This news shocked the U.K, if not the world. It certainly was not a time to use humour or puns, it had to be respectful and to the point. There really was no other way to express this piece of news.
Headlines are always followed by a lead paragraph. This is the opening paragraph of the article and it summarises the main ideas behind the article. The first paragraph from the New York Times gives the most important information about the disaster:
“The Titanic had foundered at about 2:20 A.M., in latitude 41:46 north and longitude 50:14 west. This is about 30 minutes of latitude, or about 34 miles, due south of the position at which she struck the iceberg. All her boats are accounted for and about 655 souls have been saved of the crew and passengers, most of the latter presumably women and children. There were about 1,200 people aboard the Titanic.”
This is short but gives most of the information they had available at the time. It doesn’t need to be funny, or short as you are already reading it.
Interestingly, newspapers are printed in columns so that they are easy to read on the train. There are eight words on each line, it has been found if they are any longer people either stop reading or cannot follow what is being said as the paper is so large.
The next time you read a newspaper article ask yourself why you are reading it, is it because of the Headline?