How to avoid “stupid” headlines
This Buzzfeed collection of “25 stupid newspaper headlines” is one of those fun Internet time-wasters, but it can also serve as a reminder about writing good heads: An extra few seconds of thought can save you from writing a “stupid” one.
As usual with this type of headline collection—kids, there used to be a late-night talk-show host named Jay Leno who regularly featured bad headlines and typos from newspapers—the funny ones are often inadvertent sexual double-entendres:
“Student excited dad got head job”
“Lady Jacks off to hot start in conference”
“Republicans turned off by size of Obama’s package”
“Deer with big rack female, it turns out”
It was a non-sexual double entendre in a headline that got an ESPN headline writer fired last month. The headline “Chink in the armor” could have been read as a racial slur against the Chinese-American Jeremy Lin.
My first thought upon reading that headline was that a young editor wasn’t aware of “chink” as a racial slur. The last person I heard utter that word was Archie Bunker, on TV in the ’70s. Not that racial slurs have gone away, but I thought that one had fallen from favor.
Once in a while, you might get burned by a double-meaning you didn’t know existed. When I was in my late 20s I was told by a senior copy editor that “eenie meenie miney mo” had racist overtones, something I hadn’t known when reciting that rhyme as a kid, with the thing being caught by its toe being a tiger, not a vicious, two-syllable slur against black people.
But most of the time, an extra moment reading—really reading, and thinking about—your headline, will reveal these double-meanings or errors.
“Marijuana issue sent to a joint committee”
“Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons”
“Missippi’s literacy program shows improvement”
Your headline is the biggest text, the first thing readers see, your calling card in search engine results and, often, in social media links. Take a few extra seconds. Make sure it’s spelled correctly and grammatical, of course, but also make sure it’s not saying something painfully obvious—”Diana was still alive hours before she died”—or something you hadn’t intended.
You’ll be glad you got that largest text right. After all, size matters.