Search for the perfect headline | Media | The Guardian
Song titles provide a rich source of material, for example, Zip Me Up Before You Go Go, a headline used in the Sun and in the first edition of the Daily Star when George Michael was arrested in a public toilet for lewd behaviour. (The Star replaced its headline in the second edition with the almost as good Wham Bam Flash In The Pan). And when actor Hugh Grant split with Jemima Khan earlier this year, the headline writers had fun with Chuck A Khan.
For Sun executive editor Fergus Shanahan, online does not mean the death of the great headline – in fact, he believes it might encourage even better ones to be written. “All sensible and progressive parts of the newspaper industry accept it is not a question of consumers choosing either to buy a paper or obtain their news online: it is a mixture, not one or the other. So papers must try harder than ever to seize the attention of existing and potential readers. A really memorable headline on page one on a newsagent’s stand is one of the best ways to achieve this.”
Shanahan, who night-edited the Sun and wrote many of the headlines during MacKenzie’s editorship, believes that a newspaper headline has more power to engage readers than a line of type across an internet article. “Make people laugh, make them angry, make them cross -engage the emotions.”
He also claims that the dynamics of reading online are different. “Often a reader has already selected what to read, either by going direct to a publisher’s website or using a search engine. Sso the job of ‘selling’ the story to the consumer does not apply. I do believe, though, that headlines online are capable of being sharper and wittier. The talent for writing memorable headlines whether online or in print will always be in demand.”
It is a view broadly shared by Keith Howitt, production editor of the Independent on Sunday, who says: “If subs are told to write headlines aimed at gaining hits on the internet, then I think that’s a silly, short-sighted and possibly dangerous road to travel down. I expect subs to write good headlines based on the copy. The aim should always be to attract and entertain the reader while remaining true to the facts. Plus, of course, many Sunday paper headlines need to be quirky and tangential as the stories are often not really ‘news’ in the accepted sense.”
So what are the top headline writers’ top headlines? Unsurprisingly, Shanahan picks a couple from the Sun: “Paddy Pantsdown described the embarrassment of the sanctimonious LibDem leader when caught having an affair. It was written by the then picture editor, Paul Buttle.
“Backbench sub Tony Partington was the author of my all-time favourite, the award-winning headline over the attempted diamond robbery at the Dome: I’m Only Here For De Beers.” Just don’t Google it.