Saturday, October 27, 2007

Brass Tack #4 - Leave clever headlines to the experts.

Newspaper sub-editors (at least some of them) are very good at writing eye-catching, cutely phrased headlines. We may think of some headlines as excruciating but they are part of the fabric of popular culture.

Headlines are a little like kitsch. At one level they are all awful but look closer and you can distinguish 'good-awful' from 'god-awful'. Sub-editors aspire to the former and do so with the knowledge of their readership and house style of their publication.

They will apply various rhetorical devices, such as puns (‘Cat burglar commits the purrfect crime’; ‘Ice cream firm earns lots of lolly’), alliteration (‘Birmingham Balti business is booming’, ‘Silver surfers score success’), assonance (‘Ladies lay waste to garden fete’), references to well-known catch-phrases (‘Bish bash bosh – make more dosh’) and other linguistic techniques to ensure the message jumps from the page to engage their readers' interest.

That’s what sub-editors are trained to do. All you need to do is provide then with a blank canvas to work on - a simple headline that makes it abundantly clear what the story is about, e.g. ‘Pupils raise funds for school swimming pool’, and leave it to the subs to come up with ‘Students splash out’.

Filed under:
media relations       headlines      press release     rhetoric      journalists

9 comments:

Scholiast said...

hi. slightly off-topic, I'm afraid, and I haven't looked through your whole blog to check (since I'm at work..), but I'd really like to know an English term... (I work with dictionaries, but this one word is missing -) it's the kind of headline that's screaming at you (which led me to your blog..) - we call them "war types" in Norwegian, or "return of Christ types" -- the kind I guess the tabloids especially wallow in. But I can't say I've come across a name for them, is it actually 'screaming headlines'?

I'd be grateful for an answer (mail address is on my profile).

Thanks :)

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