The headline or heading is the text indicating the content or nature of the article below it, typically by proving a form of brief summary of its contents.
The large type front page headline did not come into use until the late 19th century when increased competition between newspapers led to the use of attention-getting headlines.
It is sometimes termed a news hed, a deliberate misspelling that dates from production flow during hot type days, to notify the composing room that a written note from an editor concerned a headline and should not be set in type.
Headlines in English often use a set of grammatical rules known as headlinese, designed to meet stringent space requirements by, for example, leaving out forms of the verb "to be" and choosing short verbs like "eye" over longer synonyms like "consider".
A headline's purpose is to quickly and briefly draw attention to the story. It is generally written by a copy editor, but may also be written by the writer, the page layout designer, or other editors. The most important story on the front page above the fold may have a larger headline if the story is unusually important. The New York Times's 21 July 1969 front page stated, for example, that "MEN WALK ON MOON", with the four words in gigantic size spread from the left to right edges of the page.
In the United States, headline contests are sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society, the National Federation of Press Women, and many state press associations; some contests consider created content already published, others are for works written with winning in mind.
Research in 1980 classified newspaper headlines into four broad categories: questions, commands, statements, and explanations. Advertisers and marketers classify advertising headlines slightly differently into questions, commands, benefits, news/information, and provocation.
Skilled newspaper readers "spend most of their reading time scanning the headlines—rather than reading [all or most of] the stories".
Headlines can bias readers toward a specific interpretation and readers struggle to update their memory in order to correct initial misconceptions in the cases of misleading or inappropriate headlines.
One approach investigated as a potential countermeasure to online misinformation is "attaching warnings to headlines of news stories that have been disputed by third-party fact-checkers", albeit its potential problems include e.g. that false headlines that fail to get tagged are considered validated by readers.
Sensationalism, inaccuracy and misleading headlines
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The use of "slam" in headlines has attracted criticism on the grounds that the word is overused and contributes to media sensationalism. The violent imagery of words like "slam", "blast", "rip", and "bash" has drawn comparison to professional wrestling, where the primary aim is to titillate audiences with a conflict-laden and largely predetermined narrative, rather than provide authentic coverage of spontaneous events.
"Crash blossoms" is a term used to describe headlines that have unintended ambiguous meanings, such as The Times headline "Hospitals named after sandwiches kill five". The word 'named' is typically used in headlines to mean "blamed/held accountable/named [in a lawsuit]", but in this example it seems to say that the hospitals' names were related to sandwiches. The headline was subsequently changed in the electronic version of the article to remove the ambiguity. The term was coined in August 2009 on the Testy Copy Editors web forum after the Japan Times published an article entitled "Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms" (since retitled to "Violinist shirks off her tragic image").
Headlinese is an abbreviated form of news writing style used in newspaper headlines. Because space is limited, headlines are written in a compressed telegraphic style, using special syntactic conventions, including:
- Forms of the verb "to be" and articles (a, an, the) are usually omitted.
- Most verbs are in the simple present tense, e.g. "Governor signs bill", while the future is expressed by an infinitive, with to followed by a verb, as in "Governor to sign bill"
- The conjunction "and" is often replaced by a comma, as in "Bush, Blair laugh off microphone mishap".
- Individuals are usually specified by surname only, with no honorifics.
- Organizations and institutions are often indicated by metonymy: "Wall Street" for the US financial sector, "Whitehall" for the UK government administration, "Madrid" for the government of Spain, "Davos" for World Economic Forum, and so on.
- Many abbreviations, including contractions and acronyms, are used: in the US, some examples are Dems (for "Democrats") and GOP (for the Republican Party, from the nickname "Grand Old Party"); in the UK, Lib Dems (for the Liberal Democrats), Tories (for the Conservative Party). The period (full point) is usually omitted from these abbreviations, though U.S. may retain them, especially in all-caps headlines to avoid confusion with the word us.
- Lack of a terminating full stop (period) even if the headline forms a complete sentence.
- Use of single quotation marks to indicate a claim or allegation that cannot be presented as a fact. For example, an article titled "Ultra-processed foods 'linked to cancer'" covered a study which suggested a link but acknowledged that its findings were not definitive. Linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum characterizes this practice as deceptive, noting that the single-quoted expressions in newspaper headlines are often not actual quotations, and sometimes convey a claim that is not supported by the text of the article. Another technique is to present the claim as a question, hence Betteridge's law of headlines.
Commonly used short words
- ace (a professional, especially a member of an elite sports team, e.g. "England ace")
- axe (to eliminate)
- bid (to attempt)
- blast (to heavily criticize)
- cagers (basketball team – "cage" is an old term for indoor court)
- chop (to eliminate)
- confab (a meeting)
- eye (to consider)
- finger (to accuse, blame)
- fold (to shut down)
- gambit (an attempt)
- hike (to increase, raise)
- ink (to sign a contract)
- laud (to praise)
- lull (a pause)
- mar (to damage, harm)
- mull (to contemplate)
- nab (to grab)
- nix (to reject)
- parley (to discuss)
- pen (to write)
- probe (to investigate)
- rap (to criticize)
- romp (an easy victory or a sexual encounter)
- row (an argument or disagreement)
- rue (to lament)
- see (to forecast)
- slay (to murder)
- slam (to heavily criticize)
- snub (to reject)
- solon (to judge)
- spat (an argument or disagreement)
- tap (to select, choose)
- tot (a child)
- tout (to put forward)
- woe (disappointment or misfortune)
Some famous headlines in periodicals include:
- WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG – Variety on Black Monday (1929)
- STICKS NIX HICK PIX – Variety writing that rural moviegoers preferred urban films (1935)
- DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN – Chicago Tribune reporting the wrong election winner (1948)
- FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD – New York Daily News reporting the denial of a federal bailout for bankrupt New York City (1975)
- MUSH FROM THE WIMP – The Boston Globe in-house joke headline for an editorial, which was not changed before 161,000 copies had been printed. Theo Lippman Jr. of the Baltimore Sun declared "Mush from the Wimp" the second most famous newspaper headline of the 20th century, behind "Wall St. Lays an Egg" and ahead of "Ford to City: Drop Dead".
- HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR – New York Post on a local murder (1983)
- SICK TRANSIT'S GLORIOUS MONDAY – New York Daily News front-page caption on a photo (1979) reporting an agreement to avoid fare increases and provide federal funding
- GOTCHA – The UK Sun on the torpedoing of the Argentine ship Belgrano and sinking of a gunboat during the Falklands War (1982)
- FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER – The UK Sun (1986), claiming that the comedian had eaten a fan's pet hamster in a sandwich. The story was later proven false, but is seen as one of the classic tabloid newspaper headlines.
- GREAT SATAN SITS DOWN WITH THE AXIS OF EVIL – The Times (UK) on US-Iran talks (2007)
- UNDERWEAR BANDIT CAUGHT, ADMITS BRIEF CRIME SPREE – Kodiak Daily Mirror (Alaska, US) on the arrest of a panty-pilfering suspect who had admitted his short involvement in the crime. (2014)
- SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS – Sun on Inverness Caledonian Thistle beating Celtic in the Scottish Cup; a pun on "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"
- WE ARE POPE (in German: Wir sind Papst); Bild after a German was voted to become Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
The New Republic editor Michael Kinsley began a contest to find the most boring newspaper headline. According to him, no entry surpassed the one that had inspired him to create the contest: "WORTHWHILE CANADIAN INITIATIVE", over a column by The New York Times' Flora Lewis. In 2003, New York Magazine published a list of eleven "greatest tabloid headlines".
- A-1 Headline, a 2004 Hong Kong film
- Betteridge's law of headlines – Journalistic adage that if a headline poses a question, the answer is "no"
- Bus plunge, a type of news story, and accompanying headline
- Copy editing
- Corporate jargon
- Crosswordese, words common in crosswords that are otherwise rarely used
- Dateline – Piece of news text
- Ellipsis (linguistics), omission of words
- Headlines (from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno)
- Lead paragraph
- Nut paragraph
- Syntactic ambiguity, leads to multiple humorous possible alternative interpretations of written headline
- NY Times: On Language: HED
- Wilford, John Noble (14 July 2009). "On Hand for Space History, as Superpowers Spar". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
- "Headline Contest".
- A NYTimes contest to write a NYPost-style headline"After Winning N.Y. Times Contest". The New York Times. November 11, 2011.
- Davis & Brewer 1997, p. 56. sfn error: no target: CITEREFDavisBrewer1997 (help)
- Arens 1996, p. 285. sfn error: no target: CITEREFArens1996 (help)
- Rozado, David; Hughes, Ruth; Halberstadt, Jamin (18 October 2022). "Longitudinal analysis of sentiment and emotion in news media headlines using automated labelling with Transformer language models". PLOS ONE. 17 (10): e0276367. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0276367. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 9578611. PMID 36256658.
- Brooks, David (27 October 2022). "Opinion | The Rising Tide of Global Sadness". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
- Dor, Daniel (May 2003). "On newspaper headlines as relevance optimizers". Journal of Pragmatics. 35 (5): 695–721. doi:10.1016/S0378-2166(02)00134-0.
- Ecker, Ullrich K. H.; Lewandowsky, Stephan; Chang, Ee Pin; Pillai, Rekha (December 2014). "The effects of subtle misinformation in news headlines". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 20 (4): 323–335. doi:10.1037/xap0000028.
- Pennycook, Gordon; Bear, Adam; Collins, Evan T.; Rand, David G. (November 2020). "The Implied Truth Effect: Attaching Warnings to a Subset of Fake News Headlines Increases Perceived Accuracy of Headlines Without Warnings". Management Science. 66 (11): 4944–4957. doi:10.1287/mnsc.2019.3478.
- Ann-Derrick Gaillot (2018-07-28). "The Outline "slams" media for overusing the word". The Outline. Retrieved 2020-02-24.
- Kehe, Jason (9 September 2009). "Colloquialism slams language". Daily Trojan.
- Russell, Michael (8 October 2019). "Biden 'Rips' Trump, Yankees 'Bash' Twins: Is Anyone Going to 'Slam' the Press?". PolitiChicks.
- Pérez, Isabel. "Newspaper Headlines". English as a Second or Foreign Language. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
- Brown, David (18 June 2019). "Hospital trusts named after sandwiches kill five". The Times. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
- Zimmer, Ben (Jan 31, 2010). "Crash Blossoms". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
- subtle_body; danbloom; Nessie3. "What's a crash blossom?". Testy Copy Editors. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
- Masangkay, May (18 August 2009). "Violinist shirks off her tragic image". The Japan Times. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
- Headlinese Collated definitions via www.wordnik.com
- Isabel Perez.com: "Newspaper Headlines"
- "Bush, Blair laugh off microphone mishap". CNN. July 21, 2006. Archived from the original on August 16, 2007. Retrieved July 17, 2007.
- Pack, Mark (2020). Bad News: What the Headlines Don't Tell Us. Biteback. p. 100-102.
- "Ultra-processed foods 'linked to cancer'". BBC News. 2018-02-15. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
- Pullum, Geoffrey (2009-01-14). "Mendacity quotes". Language Log. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
- "The Secrets You Learn Working at Celebrity Gossip Magazines". 2018-09-12. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
- Chad Pollitt (March 5, 2019). "Which Types of Headlines Drive the Most Content Engagement Post-Click?". Social Media Today.
- "19 Headline Writing Tips for More Clickable Blog Posts". August 27, 2019.
- "21 Viral headline examples". 6 June 2016.
- Ash Read (August 24, 2016). "There's No Perfect Headline: Why We Need to Write Multiple Headlines for Every Article".
- "When the Court was a Cage", Sports Illustrated
- "Is confab still used?"
- Scharfenberg, Kirk (1982-11-06). "Now It Can Be Told . . . The Story Behind Campaign '82's Favorite Insult". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts. p. 1. Retrieved 2011-01-20.(subscription required)
- Fox, Margalit (2016-06-09). "Vincent Musetto, 74, Dies; Wrote 'Headless' Headline of Ageless Fame". The New York Times.
- Daily News (New York), 9/25/1979, p. 1
- "Telegraph wins newspaper vote". BBC News. 25 May 2006.
- Great Satan sits down with the Axis of Evil
- "Underwear bandit caught, admits brief crime spree".
- "Super Caley dream realistic?". BBC. 22 March 2003.
- Kinsley, Michael (1986-06-02). "Don't Stop The Press". The New Republic. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
- Lewis, Flora (4 October 1986). "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
- Kinsley, Michael (28 July 2010). "Boring Article Contest". The Atlantic. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
- "Greatest Tabloid Headlines". Nymag.com. March 31, 2003. Archived from the original on January 22, 2009. Retrieved February 11, 2009.
- Harold Evans (1974). News Headlines (Editing and Design : Book Three) Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd. ISBN 978-0-434-90552-2
- Fritz Spiegl (1966). What The Papers Didn't Mean to Say. Scouse Press, Liverpool ISBN 0901367028
- Mårdh, Ingrid (1980); Headlinese: On the Grammar of English Front Page headlines; "Lund studies in English" series; Lund, Sweden: Liberläromedel/Gleerup; ISBN 91-40-04753-9
- Biber, D. (2007); "Compressed noun phrase structures in newspaper discourse: The competing demands of popularization vs. economy"; in W. Teubert and R. Krishnamurthy (eds.); Corpus linguistics: Critical concepts in linguistics; vol. V, pp. 130–141; London: Routledge
- Front Page – The British Library Exhibition of famous newspaper headlines