This morning, I did what many of your readers do: I stumbled to my coffee pot, sat on my couch and checked theshorthorn.com — my favorite digital newspaper. We had some good work appear this morning online, and some work that needed, well, more work before it published.
Throughout the day, I’m going to post critiques to the blog that detail the work that needs to be done — along with what has worked well. Here is the first of the critiques, based off how a reader decides to open a story: headlines. We had some good tries and some big misses.
Potential high-speed railway to connect cities
Needs correction: “Potential” indicates this has not happened; “to connect” indicates this will definitely connect cities. Instead: “High-speed railway would connect cities”
Study abroad fair to feature 62 countries
Style error: Study Abroad is the name of the department
Language error: The fair features programs, not countries
Instead: Fair to feature 400 study-abroad programs
Kinesiology, Nursing to collaborate because of similarities in field
Way. Too. Long. Avoid wordiness – get to the point.
Instead: Similarities draw kinesiology, nursing research together
Class receives criticism
Needs correction: This is not the focus of the story, nor is “class” specific enough – this could be any class. There is some criticism, but the focus of the story is on the purpose of the class.
Instead: First-year course sparks opinions (still vague, but at least a bit more concrete)
Job fair tips
This is a label head and should never have been published. Who is offering these tips? Why? This is lazy.
Culture clubs help growth
Nice try … but I wasn’t sure what I was clicking on when I opened this story, and I’m not sure I would have based on this headline. Answering the question “growth of what?” would have helped this headline be more concrete.
Skateboard theft remains unsolved
Did anyone challenge why this theft warranted a brief, let alone a headline? I did not click on this story.
Student decides to remain at UTA
Come on, folks. Read this headline alone and ask yourself if you would read this story. Also, this is not news nor the focus of the brief, which is a feature. Tone of headlines should match the tone of the story.
Instead: Growing into a Maverick
This is fine for a print feature headline but does NOT work as an online headline. You must think about where stories are going: Online, this contains no context for what the story is. Write two headlines for feature stories going online and in print.
Longboards provide alternative transport
The headline needs to capture the story, and the story emphasizes the different types of skateboard communities. This headline is what we call a “duh” headline – of course they offer alternative transport … they have for years. (Also, we write this story every year. Don’t forget to check your archives.)
Instead: Boards remain long on popularity
‘Destiny’ becomes most preordered game in history
Best headline today, and it’s not from today. It’s clear, newsy and to the point.
Let’s work on our headlines. They are the billboards for our stories, and they need to do several things:
– State the news in each story (even features and opinion)
– Reflect the tone of the article
– Be concise yet clear
– Grab the reader’s attention
If the headline you’ve written or are reading does not do that, point it out and suggest a different headline.
Reporters: You play a huge role in the success of a headline. If your story is unfocused or unorganized, the headline will reflect that. The news – what and why we are writing about something now – needs to be in your first paragraph. If we have to look for it, chances are your story isn’t ready to publish.
Onward, folks. Let’s make today the best day.