By Ralph Nader
Have you ever met a newspaper headline writer? Not likely. They are remarkably anonymous, receive no byline, of course, and very little recognition. There is only one major award for headline writing even though headlines serve a critical purpose in getting readers to read the articles or features. (See, ACES: The Society for Editing).
Headlines are even more important in today’s age of declining newspaper readership. That is why journalists respect the best headline writers whose genius is to read a story and figure out, under intense daily time and volume pressure, the essence of what is conveyed in an 800 or 1500-word narrative.
Sometimes the headline is so informative that it serves skimmers – who are not inclined to read an entire article –but can still get the gist of the story enough to talk about it with their friends.
Here are very recent examples of noteworthy headlines from the Washington Post and New York Times. You can judge for yourself.
“The A.I. Boom’s Army Works Overseas in Digital Sweatshops” by Rebecca Tan and Regine Cabato, Washington Post, August 30, 2023.
“Biden’s New Student Loan Repayment Plan is a Game Changer” by Michelle Singletary, Washington Post, August 30, 2023.
“Uptick in Covid Brings Reminder Virus Never Left” by Julie Bosman, New York Times, August 29, 2023.
“Military Pilots Train to Fight Beside Robots” by Eric Lipton, New York Times, August 30, 2023.
“Roma Suffering Comes Into View” by Nina Siegal, New York Times, August 30, 2023.
“Children Have a Right to Sue Nations Over Climate Change, a U.N. Panel Says” by Somini Sengupta, New York Times, August 29, 2023.
“Taking the Pulse of Teachers and Students on A.I.” by Natasha Singer, New York Times, August 28, 2023.
“Union’s Actions in Georgia Aim to Raise the Heat On Biden and Automakers” by Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, August 28, 2023.
“Companies Fight White House Push to Pay Higher Taxes” by Tony Romm, Washington Post, August 20, 2023.
“A.I. Coming for Audio Books” by Katherine A. Powers, Washington Post, August 20, 2023.
“American Democracy is Cracking – Why?” by Dan Balz and Clara Ence Morse, Washington Post, August 21, 2023.
“How Do We Fix the Scandal That Is American Health Care?” by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, August 20, 2023.
“It’s Time to Push Back Against the Algorithm” by Julia Angwin, New York Times, August 20, 2023.
“Gardening Changed How I See Myself as a Disabled Woman” by Amanda Morris, Washington Post, August 22, 2023.
“Young Activists Taking On Climate Change Fight” by David Gelles, New York Times, August 23, 2023.
“Airline Close Calls Happen Far More Often Than Previously Known” by Sidney Ember and Emily Steel, New York Times,August 23, 2023.
“Americans Are Losing Their Religious Faith” by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, August 24, 2023.
“Flimsiness Of Safety Net May Worsen China’s Crisis” by Keith Bradsher, New York Times, August 25, 2023.
“A Relatively Speedy Therapy, Using Writing, Shows Promise for PTSD” by Ellen Barry, New York Times, August 24, 2023.
“Medical Mystery Shrouds Drugs for Weight Loss” by Gina Kolata, New York Times, August 18, 2023.
“YouTube Ads Raise Alarm On Kids’ Data” by Natasha Singer and Nico Grant, New York Times, August 18, 2023.
“At Wuhan, Doctors Knew the Truth. They Were Told to Keep Quiet” by the Editorial Board, Washington Post, August 27, 2023.
“Home Schooling Minus the Parents” by Laura Meckler, Washington Post, August 19, 2023.
“U.S. Eyes Battle with Pharma Over Medication Costs for Seniors” by Tony Romm, Washington Post, August 19, 2023.
“Richest Americans Account for 40% of U.S. Climate Emissions” by Kasha Patel, Washington Post, August 18, 2023.
“Japan Can Teach the World a Better Way to Age” by Bina Venkataraman, Washington Post, August 18, 2023.
“Soon, Our Oceans Could Feel Like Jacuzzis” by Diana Nyad, New York Times, August 16, 2023.
Here is an idea that might increase newspaper readership. It’s called convenience, something so many other businesses have learned to provide. Cut one page of photographs and devote the space to a “Table of Headlines.”
What do you think – anonymous headline writers?