Sunday, October 19, 2014

Headlines Must Be Attractive

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

"Headless Body in Topless Bar"  "Tons of Soil Over Sons of Toil"  These are the kind of headlines that instantly grab the attention of readers. Apparently, headlines must be able to attract the readers to go through the news stories, A headline is the title or head of a newspaper story usually printed in large type. A headline must give a gist of the news story that ensues.

"Bush dodges shoes in Iraq"  "Russia to create force to stake claim in Arctic"  "Iranian ruler's big fear?  The BBC"  These are just the samples of headlines of both the hard and soft news stories which tell the details of the stories in a few words.

Giving an attractive and good headline to a news story is a skill, a creativity and an art. Sometimes even a dull news story filed by a newspaper reporter can be transformed into lively news story with the help of a stylish and attractive headline and  with some brilliant editing.

I had worked in a newspaper newsroom for a period of a decade and, of course, am familiar with the constraints of time and space factors while giving headlines to the news stories. A newsroom journalist not only gives headlines to the stories, he has a lot of other journalistic-editing responsibilities as well. Meeting the deadline factor before the contents go to the press has always been a formidable challenge for the newsroom journalists.

Since the headlines must be short as far as possible, the sub-editors use short words in headlines for long ones making pols for politicians, probe for investigation, and prez for president. Likewise, abbreviations and acronyms are commonly used in the headlines, such as, PM for prime minister, PC for Press Council and FNJ for Federation of Nepalese Journalists.

There was a soft news news about marijuana in one of the American newspapers and it was headlined "Some weeds can do good deeds." Headlines like "Tide turns against use of plastic bags" and "Unruly teens get a hand, not a slap" are examples of assertive headlines. I remember when former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, an American newspaper ran the headline: An epic life shadowed by blood and controversy.

There is no doubt that the quality of a newspaper may be evaluated by the pattern of its headlines. It goes without saying that the headlines of the tabloid newspapers are quite different from that of the broadsheet newspapers. The tabloids are more commercial, more celebrity-oriented and hence they go for more sensational headlines.

For example, when a teacher, coach, priest or a celebrity is accused of sodomizing a teen, it dominates tabloid headlines and social media. It is just that people are overly obsessed and overly fascinated by these kind of negative headlines and news stories.

Speaking of brief history of headlines in Nepalese journalism, during the period of Panchayat system, the headlines and news stories of the Gorkhapatra, The Rising Nepal and other pro-Panchayat newspapers were filled with words "anti-national elements" a term that they used to refer to Nepali Congress and the leftist forces. Until recently, during the period of Maoist insurgency, the Maoists were unfairly labelled as "terrorists" in the headlines of the official media.

And again, speaking of the impact of headlines, today more than ever,  the political stalwarts and business tycoons are "hungry"  for the positive headlines about them because good headlines and good  portrayal in the media enhance the political and business personality of these good-for-nothing politicians and tycoons. 

No comments:

Post a Comment