Take away l essons from poynter s newsu online course
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Writing better headlines. Take-away l essons from Poynter’s “ NewsU ” online course. By Brianna Goldberg Staff writer, U of T News. What is Poynter ?. International journalism and media strategy center L eader in journalism education For journalists For students For citizens

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Take-away l essons from Poynter’s “ NewsU ” online course

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Take away l essons from poynter s newsu online course

Writing better headlines

Take-away lessons from Poynter’s “NewsU” online course

By Brianna Goldberg

Staff writer, U of T News


What is poynter

What is Poynter?

  • International journalism and media strategy center

  • Leader in journalism education

    • For journalists

    • For students

    • For citizens

  • Focus on public interest

  • Promotes excellence and integrity in practice of craft

  • Promotes practical leadership of successful businesses

  • Stands for journalism that informs citizens and enlightens public discourse


What s the course

What’s the course?

  • WHAT I LEARNED:

  • The principles of good headline writing, regardless of platform

  • How search engines work; elements contributing to “findability” of a page

  • Elements that should – and should not – be included in a good web headline

  • How to use tools to track what people are looking for, and how they're searching for it

  • WHO TOOK THE COURSE:

  • Editors, web producers, reporters, bloggers from across Canada, US

  • Two “classes” each week for two weeks

    • Online text chat, video lecture, readings and exercises


Headlines then and now

Headlines then and now

  • Then- PRINT:

    • In conjunction with sub-headline, lede, photos

    • Puns/word-play worked well, provided depth

  • Now- ONLINE:

    • Must be clear as they often stand alone

    • Require key words up front to drive Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

    • Puns/word-play, vagueness mean your story will not be searchable


Headlines must stand alone

Headlines must stand alone

  • Our web content could show up anywhere: search engines, social media, news aggregators, RSS feeds, mobile apps and news alerts…

  • In some contexts, headlines might be paired with a deck or photo or a sentence from the top of the story, but in many contexts it will show up solo.

    That’s why a headline must

    make sense, drive clicks all by itself.


The most important things for writing headlines now

The MOST IMPORTANT THINGS for writing headlines now:

  • 1) Meaning

    • Main function of a headline is to tell readers what a story is about: use key words within the story and pair with strong verbs

  • 2) Significance

    • Tell readers why they should care, why to click

  • 3) Interest

    • Invite readers into the story rather than talk at them


First 2 words are key

First 2 words are key

  • Nielsen Research eye-tracking study shows people read the web in an “F” pattern

  • First TWO words– or about 11 characters

  • “Users typically see about 2 words for most list items; they'll see a little more if the lead words are short, and only the first word if they're long.”


First 2 words are key1

First 2 words are key

  • Nielsen Research eye-tracking study shows people read the web in an “F” pattern

  • First TWO words– or about 11 characters

  • “Users typically see about 2 words for most list items; they'll see a little more if the lead words are short, and only the first word if they're long.”


Eye tracking study take aways

Eye-tracking study take-aways

  • Most clicked-on links in search results

    • Use plain language

    • Use specific terminology

    • Follow conventions for naming common features

    • Front-load user- and action-oriented terms

  • YES even if that means using PASSIVE VOICE!

    • Passive okay in headlines if it’s the only way to put key words at the front; Don’t sacrifice readers for a grammar principle!

    • Make up for passive with strong verbs, punchy nouns


Eye tracking study take aways1

Eye-tracking study take-aways

  • WORST-performing links used

    • Bland, generic words

    • Made-up words or terms (in our case, jargon)

    • Deferred information-carrying text to the end

      We tend to *sometimes* do these withU of T stories…

      “U of T announces… insert academic jargon here… key words at end of headline or buried in the story”


How could this apply to u of t headlines

How could this apply to U of T headlines?

  • Examples from Harvard demonstrate

    Head: Poetry spreads its web

    Sub-head: Elisa New will offer a HarvardX course spotlighting the literary art in America

    Head: Mindfulness over matters

    Sub-head: Using meditation techniques in classrooms can boost clarity and learning, Kabat-Zinn says


How could this apply to u of t headlines1

How could this apply to U of T headlines?

These headlines do not tell you anything.

The sub-heads do.

An easy way to improve headlines:

Write sub-head– THEN MAKE IT THE HEADLINE!


Good headlines

Good headlines

Examples from Yale:

  • Researchers rewrite an entire genome — and add a healthy twist

  • UN Special Rapporteurs to Discuss Drone Killings, Cultural Rights at Yale Law School

    These are not perfect… but they do not need a

    sub-headline because they use key words

    and communicate the message.


10 tips for better headlines

10 Tips for better headlines

  • 1. Use strong words. Identify words and phrases that best describe your topic. Look for single words that do the work of two, or a two- word phrase that does the work of five. (This ties into SEO.)

  • 2. Start simple.Think: subject, verb. Who, what. Then build on it..

  • 3. Mine the 5 W's and 1 H. Ask yourself: Who, what, when, where, why, how. What are the primary questions addressed by story? Focus on that element in your headline.

  • 4. Go beyond puns. Write headlines for your readers, not to show you’re clever. Don’t resort to an obvious pun that simply makes people groan.

  • 5. Replace boring words. Let tired clichés rest. Replace them with fresher, telling language.


10 tips for better headlines1

10 Tips for better headlines

  • 6. Take the mental picture. What picture comes to mind as you read the story?

  • 7. Change your perspective. Come at the headline from a different viewpoint.

    • For example, instead of writing the head from the government's perspective (Officials approve later high school starting times), write it from the affected person's perspective (Students applaud later high school starting times).

  • 8. Get emotional. Is there love, frustration, appreciation? People respond to emotion.

  • 9. Value the verb. A fresh verb can really make a headline.

    • An aside regarding search engine optimization: Nouns overshadow verbs as popular search keywords, but verbs can power a headline’s click-through rate by making the headline more interesting.

  • 10. Be specific. Sometimes, just making a headline more specific really helps.


Great headline checklist

GREAT headline checklist

  • Is the most interesting part of the headline at the beginning?

    (It should be…)

  • Are keywords near the front of the headline?

  • Does it use good, interesting, efficient language?

  • Does it describe what is in the story?

  • Is it easily understandable?

  • Would YOU read the story?


Examples of my own exercises

Examples of my own exercises

  • Original headline: Japanese government nuclear adviser quits

  • Lede: A senior nuclear adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has resigned, criticizing the government for ignoring his advice on radiation limits and not doing enough to deal with the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

  • New headline: Japan's nuclear adviser quits over Fukushima fallout


Examples of my own exercises1

Examples of my own exercises

  • Original headline: When you can't tell domains without a scorecard

  • Lede: On the Web, there’s no place like .home. But there soon may be, along with hundreds of other new Internet address suffixes like .bible, .blog, .family, .game, .gay and .pizza.

  • New headline: Why web domains will soon range from .com to .pizza, beyond


Examples of my own exercises2

Examples of my own exercises

  • Original headline: Tens of thousands attend pope's vigil

  • Lede: A somber-looking Pope Francis made an impassioned appeal before 100,000 people on Saturday to avert a widening of Syria's conflict, urging world leaders to pull humanity out of a "spiral of sorrow and death."sandsattend pope's vigil

  • New headline: Pope mourns Syria deaths with tens of thousands at vigil


Thank you

Thank you!


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