I have spent the last three weeks in Hull, training reporters to write headlines. There were 80 journalists, from the Hull Daily Mail, Scunthorpe and Grimsby Telegraphs, Lincolnshire Echo and assorted weeklies, all scribbling real headlines to stick on the wall and discuss. We also looked at the 28 rules that govern good headlines. The first is simple: The sole purpose of the headline is to catch the eye, to persuade the reader to turn to the article underneath. If the headline is boring, then it is unlikely to succeed. Avoid dull words.
We certainly had no problem finding dull words. The list included:
Residents, Boost, Council, Adjourned, Drama, Appeal, Volunteers, Alert, Meeting, Alarm, Accommodation, Project, Services, Centre, Plans, Call to, Bid to, Proposals, Committee, Bonanza, Blueprint, Development, Fund, New, Infrastructure, Facilities, Situation, Crackdown, Local.
We even found some classic bad headlines (not from their own titles I would stress) including:
At first we thought they were a random collection of words rather than headlines. What all these words have in common is they are non-specific - none of them build a picture in the reader's mind.
The reporters did pretty well and have since written publishable headlines for their papers. At the moment they are writing heads only on shorter stories. But who would bet against that being rolled out?
These Northcliffe papers are not averse to using the odd pun, as you can see from the above. But the headlines we were dealing with were, of course, very different from those in the tabloids. That didn't stop us taking time out to look at some of the classics. Here are 20 that might just brighten up your freezing cold November day.