Monday, October 25, 2004

On headlines

Nov. 11: What makes a good headline

Why newspapers should 'fess up to not just errors of fact, but misleading headlines as well:

David Ogilvy:
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.

EyeTrack study:
With a headline larger than the blurb and on a separate line, people tended to view the headlines and skip the blurbs; they scanned the headlines throughout the page more than the group that looked at the smaller headlines.

Researchers believe that it is the contrast in type size that accounts for this behavior, as well as the type size itself. When a headline is larger than its accompanying blurb text, it's perceived as the important element of the headline-blurb block -- so people appear to decide that viewing the headline is sufficient and they skip the blurb.

Eric Umansky::
Headline writers-typically copy editors-have an obligation to give readers the most accurate sense possible of an article's conclusions...They're frequently failing.

Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo, in another context: hardly seems to merit the headline -- which, as it so often does, ends up shaping the reaction to the story...

From now-shuttered Whiskey Bar
The story itself, however, tells a much more complex story than the Times copy desk saw fit to capture in the head -- either out of editorial bias or because a harried copy editor ignored the old journalistic rule about reading more than just the first couple of paragraphs before slapping a headline on a story

Here's an example
Schwarzenegger, Tribes Sign New Gambling Pact
LA Times says Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed new gambling compacts with representatives of five Indian tribes, securing a $1-billion payment to the state this year, helping to close the coming year's fiscal budget gap.
[Further reading finds it's misleading:]
[Schwarzenegger] caved in and negotiated a deal to get a lousy $60 million or so per year from the tribes, less than 5% of what he claimed he could get during the campaign. And then he blew 18 years worth of the money all at once for this year's budget.

It's just more smoke and mirrors. But the headlines will all say he got a billion dollars.

Another here
It was the headline rather than the story under it that sparked readers' ire, Bottomly says. "That's obviously the one thing that readers really focused on and we were wrong... It's possible if readers see the word 'affair' in the headline they might see that as an indication we're downplaying the seriousness of what occurred..."

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