Well I hope that got your attention. The reason for my rather hyperbolic and quite frankly deceptive headline is because I wanted to talk about page furniture and how being able to write a good headline and captions is not only a vital skill to learn but is becoming increasingly important in getting people to read newspapers at all.
I don’t read a newspaper. Well I do, but what I mean is I don’t buy the same one every day, I chop and change and can sometimes go a good few days without reading one. I rarely finish reading all the articles which would initially have been of interest to me. I might just about get through a copy of the i paper if I have a long train journey. I know I am not alone in this.
These days we’re just all too busy. We have the net, Twitter, and non-stop news channels to keep us informed as we fly about our day at 100mph. Who the hell is going to sit down and read a newspaper? Unless that is, I am grabbed by headline, picture (or both) I tend not to bother reading a whole article.
Sorry all you aspiring writers out there but it’s true. I’m not sure you’re heading into the most valuable area of journalism. When I went to the Guardian Student Media Conference back in 2008 the deputy editor (I can’t remember his name…his advice was good though) said the most important parts of producing a newspaper were a good picture, a great caption and most important was a top-notch headline. And these days I think there has never been a truer word (or comment) and it is something all we wannabes should bear in mind.
I shudder as I think back to my days on my student newspaper and some of the lazy editing I did late at night on a Wednesday. I have mentioned before how important it is for wannabe journalists to take every aspect of their work seriously especially if, like me, student media is going to be one of the major aspects of the ‘experience’ section of your CV.
I am ashamed to say I produced some dreadful, unimaginative captions in my time and allowed many more to be printed. A brilliant picture was so often undercut by a poor caption, something which the hardworking photographers no doubt resented on many occasions. Even my headlines slipped at times.
On one occasion (and this is my dirty little secret which I haven’t told you lot before) I was far too keen to leave the office early and so left an article about a Socialist party rally with the headline “Some Socialists…or any other ideas” expecting my colleagues to find some creative spark and write the headline.
Sadly they had far too much faith in my work ethic and believed my headline to be a deliberate, subtle reflection of the political position of the country. It made it to print and the editors and I still talk about it to this day.
But whilst it is all very funny to look back on errors the fact that this headline cock-up is so well remembered and quoted shows how much impact they can have. They are the first thing that hits you and along with the picture are the major selling factors for that piece of work. Throw in a good caption and you might just get me to read the article. Then it’s over to the writer to produce the goods and give me an informative and interesting piece which I read all the way to the end. But I can’t give you any advice on how to write well. I mean you probably gave up after the headline…
The Chancer thinks that top quality page furniture is the most important part of a newspaper. Do you agree? Perhaps you think it’s all about the big name writers?