Digital Headbutt

A sports blog about stuff…stuff that involves things.

Fun With Headlines

Posted by Mike on October 1, 2006

Headlines are vitally important to attracting a potential reader. Often it can be the difference between whether or not an article (or even a publication) is read by the masses on the Web. So I’m going to test what I can do as a headline writer, in case my future as a Voodoo Astronaut Cartoonist doesn’t work out.

Part 1: Find bad headlines and update them

Headline #1: Govt holds Emergency meet on Dengue

Problems: Not Specific enough. Government of what country? Dengue What? Why is it an emergency? Awkward use of ‘meet’ instead of ‘meeting’.

New Headline: Deadly Dengue fever outbreak in India forces emergency government meeting


Headline #2: Force Majeure at Texas polymers site

Problems: Very vague. “Force Majeure” used improperly, inappropriate for context of the article.

New Headline: Explosion shuts down Bayer polymer plant in Texas


Headline #3: Vodafone Scores Home Run

Problems: The headline gives little hint to the article’s content; home run? With what?

New Headline: Vodafone to Enter Home Phone Market in New Zealand, Battle Telecom



Part 2: Edit an article that could be improved with a list

The original article is about how compulsive shopping is just as prevalent in men as in women. It’s an interesting article.

Here’s what I would change:

“But just how prevalent is compulsive buying? Previous estimates, based on small samples, had ranged from about 2 percent to 16 percent of the population.

In this new study, Koran’s team conducted a nationwide phone survey of more than 2,500 adults. After gathering data on demographics and income, the researchers used a standard screening instrument called the Compulsive Buying Scale to determine whether a person fit the criteria for the disorder.

They found that of the 2,500 adults surveyed:

  • 5.8% were compulsive buyers
  • 6% of women were compulsive
  • 5.5% of men were compulsive
  • younger adults are more likely to shop compulsively
  • adults with income less than $50,000 are more likely to shop compulsively

The finding that compulsive buying affects men just as much as women didn’t come as a big surprise to Dittmar. She said that British studies had shown little evidence of a gender gap, especially among younger people. And she noted that clinical studies into the disorder have typically recruited participants via women’s magazines and similar outlets, boosting the participation of females.”


Part 3: Make three viable headlines for the following story lede:


It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified “Beach at End of a Street.”

But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child’s play: all these “unusual or out-of-place” sites “whose criticality is not readily apparent” are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.

The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation.

The database is used by the Homeland Security Department to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in antiterrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly increasing spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha.

“We don’t find it embarrassing,” said the department’s deputy press secretary, Jarrod Agen. “The list is a valuable tool.”

Potential Headlines:

  • No. 1: Indiana has over 8,500 terrorist targets—wait, what?
  • No. 2: Terrorist target list has unusual locales
  • No. 3: Don’t Go To The Petting Zoo: Homeland Security Target Database in Indiana Doesn’t Compute


This one was written solely for satirical purposes, à la The Onion:

  • Homeland Security Database Reveals the Truth: Jihad Taking Place at Old MacDonald’s Petting Zoo!

Part 4: Change the headline from your own opinion piece

  • Old Headline: On Online Communication and its Effect on Writing Proficiency
  • New Headline: Online Communication is not the End of Good Writing

Maybe fixing headlines isn’t so bad…or maybe the life of a Voodoo Astronaut Cartoonist is the life for me.


One Response to “Fun With Headlines”

  1. bc said

    I love your approach to this assignment, the sense of fun and play.

    Your headline corrx all are good. You clearly have a knack for this.
    And thank you for linking to the sources.

    The first a HUGE improvement over the fragged sample, and solves the many probs you identify.

    The second fix also is especially good.

    Good job with the list.

    Databse heds:
    love the teaser in the first. suggest flipping construx tho:
    What? Indiana has 8,500 terrorist targets?!?

    second good, distills news.

    the third is a bit disconnected, but i think it’s worth the risk. you distill AND get absurdity into the head.

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