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FROM THE NEWSROOM: How we write headlines

Friday, November 15, 2013 | 3:57 p.m. CST; updated 11:40 a.m. CST, Monday, December 16, 2013

Welcome to From the Newsroom, the section dedicated to answering your questions about the Missourian. Our goal is to be transparent about our practices and processes and to invite our readers behind the scenes of what we do. Suggest topics you’d like to see explained by contacting Joy Mayer at mayerj@missouri.edu or 882-8182.

We have a department of the newsroom called the interactive copy editing desk. Among other duties such as checking stories for grammar, clarity and accuracy, copy editors also write headlines. Reporters and section editors write suggested headlines, but the final headlines are written by editors who specialize in them.

Those editors take several factors into consideration, and those factors vary depending on the publication platform. For example, features headlines are treated differently than breaking news headlines. Headlines try to convey key information, explain the relevance of the stories and explain what's new about the story.

Headlines written for ColumbiaMissourian.com are different from headlines written for the print edition.

Web headlines

Web headlines focus on search engine optimization. That means they use proper nouns and key terms that readers would be likely to search for online in order to help more people find the article. Web headlines are typically limited to 10 words on our website because of space. Most Web headlines are pretty straightforward; they focus more on conveying key facts than they do on being clever. 

Print headlines

Headlines in the print edition are based more on hierarchy and space constraints. They must be the right length to fit the space allotted by a print designer and yet still convey key information. Print headlines should not repeat the lead, or opening, of the story. They also have a sales function and should draw readers in, compelling them to read the story.

In print, stories sometimes have many layers of text, with subordinate headlines and captions that support and complement the main headline.

Often, especially on lighter news stories, editors try to make the headline work with the photo in a clever way or pull an interesting word, phrase or quote from the story. Other strategies include using puns, rhymes, alliteration, pop culture or literary references to pique the readers' interest.

Examples

Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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