Headlines can be tricky.
They’re the first words people read. At times, they’re the only words they read.
Choosing a suitable headline for a story involves the juggling of many factors. For one, how serious is the story? Is it a hard-news piece? For instance, in sports and lifestyles, we can manage to be a tad “cuter” and apply a wider range of cleverness.
If a story hits on a sensitive subject or a serious topic and if is on the front page, especially, landing on the perfect headline may require kid gloves.
Also, there’s a difference between an attention-grabber and clickbait.
If we ever catch ourselves simply going for clicks with a headline, we typically pull the plug on said header. Clickbait or sensationalism doesn’t adequately serve the readers. It’s shallow. However, you don’t want to be so bland that you put the reader to sleep before the last word of the header.
Now perhaps more than ever before, one must be extremely cautious when deciding on a headline.
Sometimes, we in the newsroom engage in (mostly healthy) debates regarding potential headlines.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, tensions have been ultra-high following the police shooting — and resulting paralysis — of 29-year-old Black man Jacob Blake.
The Kenosha News has been faced with the challenge of covering the resulting rallies and riots in the city.
One participant in a recent rally said “If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours.”
While obviously a quote that should be included in the story, the journalist in charge of deciding on a headline for this piece went with that direct quote as the header.
As a result, the newspaper’s digital editor resigned. He also happened to be the lone full-time Black staff member at the paper, according to The New York Times.
According to The Times, Thompson said the headline was off-base. “The story is about the entire reaction of all the speakers and people in attendance,” he told The Times, “and that quote is one outlier falling within a flood of positive ones.”
Thompson did not cover the event, but he was in attendance.
When the newspaper refused to change the headline before it went to print, Thompson chose to resign.
Later, according to The Times, it was changed. But Thompson had already quit.
We at The Daily Independent want to assure our readers we will always strive to consider every factor when penning headlines. And we always welcome your feedback.