walk a very fine line.
the most difficult job in communication lies with the headline writer for newspapers,
magazines, journals, et al. I learned this many years ago when I attained the exalted
position of sports editor for my high school newspaper. Headlines must:
►Describe the content of the story in a few brief words
►Gain the attention of the reader, again in a few brief words
►Fit the allotted space
►Be clear so that they can't be misunderstood.
In trying to meet all of these
criteria, headline writers at times run into trouble. I thought of this the other
day when I read the headline, "Methodist bishops speak out against church fires."
Seems obvious they wouldn't favor them!
"Mine sinks destroyer" was a famous
newspaper headline during World War II, describing a destroyer running into an explosive
mine. The New Yorker magazine later described the headline, with the comment following
it, "What did yours do?"
"Severed head found, foul play suspected," was
a headline in another newspaper a couple of years ago. Seems a reasonable assumption.
The headline writer also has to be careful not to insult anyone. A headline in
our local paper read, "Elderly man injured." Turned out in the story that this "elderly"
man had reached the ripe old age of 55, so the headline didn't make anyone 55 or
I write a monthly column for our local newspaper,
The Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune, which runs on the op-ed page. The op-ed editor is an
expert at coming up with good headlines for these pieces.
"Truth often 'lens' itself to laughter
for optometrists," was his headline for a column I had written on some of the humorous
experiences in optometrists' offices.
"Don't put any stock in his
investment tips," he headlined the column I wrote about my disastrous investment
In another column, I had written about
the country rube who entered an exclusive fur salon with a peroxide blonde on his
arm, and wrote a check for $10,000 to buy her the fur she selected.
"I'm sorry, but we can't accept a check
of this size without calling the bank to make certain it's good," said the proprietor.
"Since it's Saturday, we can't do it until Monday."
"No problem," said the hick. "Just
set the coat aside and my girlfriend here can come in to pick it up on Monday morning
after you've called my bank."
The following Monday afternoon, he
appeared back at the fur salon. "I don't know how you have the nerve to come in
here!" said the proprietor. "Your girlfriend came in this morning to pick up the
fur, but when we called your bank, you don't have even five dollars in your account,
let alone $10,000!"
"I know," replied the rube. "I just
came in to thank you for a lovely weekend."
"Bit of humor goes a 'fur' piece in
curing our woes," was the headline caption he wrote for this column.
You can learn a lot from headline writers about
communication. Be brief, use words that are easily understood and that accurately
describe the message you are trying to impart, make the message interesting, and
above all, one that can't be misunderstood.
OUR CONSULTING EDITOR, LIVES IN ROME, GA. HE'S
ALSO A PAST EDITOR OF OM. CONTACT HIM AT RUNNINGERJ@AOL.COM
Optometric Management, Issue: June 2006