Let’s face it — I’m an old-school dog who has spent the last 14 years trying to learn new-school tricks. I suck at writing SEO-friendly heads. I keep wanting to go old-school.
Now understand, I’m a magazine writer, not a newspaperwoman, so the only real newspaper-style hed-writing I’ve had to do is from my time at the Bell Labs News in the 1980s. I’m talking about where my brain goes when it comes time to write a headline.
I love heds with puns. I love those old Wall Street Journal-style multi-deck heds. (I love to write “heds.”) I love the way good headline writers create a voice for their papers that shouts from the newstand. You would never confuse a New York Daily News hed with a Wall Street Journal hed.
I remember great heds the way people remember great movie lines. Here’s one I learned about when I was in journalism school. It’s from the New York Daily News. It concerns the story of a young woman from Denmark who came to the US on a tourist visa to marry her American fiance. Tragically, he died just before the wedding. She wanted to remain in the US, but the immigration authorities were not sympathetic. The Daily News front page screamed:
US orders Danish to go
It’s crass, I know, but you’ve got to admit, it’s funny, and it’s informative, if you’re reading it as a human. It’s what you expect from the Daily News. But it’s not terribly SEO-friendly, is it? No solid keywords to match the bots’ metadata -” immigration”, perhaps, or maybe “wedding tragedy.” Bots aren’t very punny. (Then again, Copyblogger says that the SEO crowd goes about that whole keyword thing the wrong way, anyway.
On the other hand, that hed is short enough to be twitter-friendly. But it’s not the kind of hed I’m prone to writing. As much as I appreciate the craft that goes into writing heds for a good tab, I’m a broadsheet kind of girl. I’d rather read a sonnet than a limerick.
Oh, and another thing — I love the kicker. If I ever get around to writing my own WordPress theme, it will be a newspaper theme with a kicker for each hed.
What’s a kicker? It’s a clever short hed that goes over the main headline. Here’s a good example:
World ready for ‘Gone with the Wind’ sequel
That’s craft, right there. “Scarlet Fever” is a nice double entendre. It gives you a sense of the intensity of fans’ enthusiasm for the movie. (That enthusiasm is lost on me, I confess, since I consider that book and film to be a soft-core piece of racist propaganda, but I digress.) The main hed tells you exactly what the newspeg is. It’s like haiku, but more purposeful.
Then again, maybe I’m just being old and whiny, and I need to just put on my eyeshade and get back to being disciplined about writing twitter-friendly heds that sing.