Formation of attractive headlines for the news stories is an important art. It is not as simple as it may seem to be. Proper headlines are very essential for the proper display of news. By writing headlines a story can be made or marred.
Sometimes, even a very good story may fail to catch the attention of the people if the headlines are not good. Even a very competent subeditor may falter in writing the headlines. Some people are in the habit of reading the newspaper headlines only.
They make their judgment about the news stories only on the basis of the catchy headlines.
Sometimes, attracted by the headlines itself they may go through the whole story. The headlines play a very important role in influencing the public opinion. They also play an important role in creating the image of the newspaper.
Headlines writing are a very peculiar problem of the print media. Many newspaper readers are in the habit of reading the stories on the basis of headlines only.
Thus, inadequate or indifferent headlines which lack clarity or interesting points deprive many good stories the importance and readership which they deserve.
Many readers try to get their facts just from the headlines alone. Sometimes, inaccurate and misleading headlines can be much more dangerous than even the printing of an inaccurate story.
In some crisis like a communal or some other emergency, sensational type of inaccurate headlines can incite an instigate the people to commit lawlessness. Sensational headlines may help a paper to sell its editions quickly, but it will have a very bad effect on the public opinion as well as on the paper’s permanent image and goodwill. The main objective of the headlines should be to tell the readers as to what report is about.
A good headline will give the most important and interesting part of a news item. Proper headlines must be able to draw the attention of even a casual reader. There is no doubt that for giving catchy headlines to the newspaper the relative importance of the different news stories has to be kept in mind.
It is also necessary to give relative importance to the different news items so that the space for their headlines can be found as per the layout of the newspaper.
The most important news stories have to be printed on the first page itself and out of that the topmost story is given the pride of the place and its headlines is splashed on the front page.
Only those can realise the problems faced by the sub-editors regarding the composition of headlines, who have themselves composed headlines for some newspapers, because it is a very tiring time for the sub-editors to fit interest and accuracy into the allotted headlines.
They have to find the proper words for the headlines which can be fitted into the available space. Even a small change in the wording may run the risk of either misunderstanding or no understanding at all.
Even the type cannot be squeezed. Of course, the modern trend in some newspapers towards horizontal page make-up—multi-column headlines with stories spread horizontally beneath them—has to some extent alleviated the problem of some newspapers.
Some newspaper in foreign countries has changed from eight to six column format. They have also added a third to one-column counts in a given type size.
There is no doubt that a majority of newspapers still in writing headlines. The fitting difficulties are such that copy-desks or sub-editors have devised elaborate counting systems to estimate whether lines will fit.
There is no doubt that in writing the headlines the sub-editor has to work not only effectively but very quickly. In fact, the work of writing headlines is a very demanding work.
The main problem is that telegraphic words are used to put the maximum meaning in a very short space, because the area that a headline can occupy is very limited and the short heading or headlines must also convey a complete sense.
The deskman who is responsible for writing headlines must have a very good vocabulary and command over various words and phrases. He must know the exact meaning of every phrase and word that he uses.
He should also have a good knowledge of synonyms, so that which it is difficult to use a lengthier word, he is able to use some smaller substitute without in any way changing the original sense.
In a headline the main objective is to convey the maximum meaning of the story in the shortest possible space. For this purpose, every single word must be used to convey some definite idea.
The deskman has also to follow the house style of the headlines of his particular paper. The main problem is to ensure that all the letters of the headlines fit within the limited space that is allotted to them.
This depends a lot on the words which are used. That again depends on the fact if the total number of letters used in the words of the headlines can be accommodated within the width of one column or the columns which are allotted to it according to the importance of the news and also the planning of the page.