Why the craft of headline writing is as important as ever

THE DIGITAL transformation of the regional newspaper business has cost many sub-editors their jobs, yet in some respects their skills are needed more than ever.

Subs (read Charlotte Baxter’s wry job description here) were once the beating heart of the newsroom. Usually journalists of experience (and sometimes of prodigious talent), they were the guardians of the paper’s soul.

The subs policed its style, established its character, and watched obsessively for errors in fact, spelling and grammar.

But by far their most important role was to write headlines, the words that caught the eye and made browsing readers stop and pay attention, so that when they put the paper away they felt satisfied and eager to read the next issue.

Such skills are just as vital online, where there is more competition than ever for readers’ attention.

One of the most successful digital news operations of the age understands this.

BuzzFeed was only launched in 2006 but now draws 200 million people to its site every month. Even more impressively, it gets 18.5 billion impressions from social media.

Its huge audience growth has been achieved largely on the back of its famously irresistible headlines.

The site concluded some time ago that the way to build its audience was through social rather than search (Facebook now accounts for more traffic to news websites than Google).

And the way to get stories noticed and shared is with skilfully crafted, intriguing headings written by journalists who understand what makes people tick.

Those new to the craft could do worse than reading Sarah Snow’s superb guide (based on an infographic by QuickSprout) to Buzzfeed-style headings.





About John Wilson

Editor of Hereford Times, Ludlow Advertiser, Stroud News and Journal, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard and Gloucestershire Gazette series. Journalist for more than 30 years.
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