Headlines and cutlines

This session was led by Tom Pierce, a college adviser, professor and copy editor for the St. Petersburg  Times.

One of the main points of this session was that writers get one chance to make a good impression, so it’s important to make headlines and cutlines interesting and readable. In this fact-paced, news-demanding society, not all readers will bother to read past the headline and lead of a story. Writers need to have clean copy, but easily understandable cutlines and headlines are important, too.

Pierce’s advice was to make headlines “grabby,” make them SHOUT. His advice was to make clichés work, but put a spin on newness. BE CLEVER.

When copy editing and reviewing complete pages, it’s vital to check the order and structure of the photos, copy and headlines. If the information is unorganized, readers might not be able to follow the flow of the content. A frustrated, reluctant reader is someone who will not appreciate the work a a publication.

USE SINGLE QUOTATIONS IN HEADLINES. It is AP Style, therefore it is good. Also, he suggested making drop caps the same type as headlines. Unless we’re playing the “let’s see how many fonts we can use in this story” game, it’s good to stick to a few, sturdy fonts.

Sometimes, a writer will construct a perfect headline, or so he thinks. It might make sense to him, but no one else gets it. One of his office pals will read it and say, “Golly gee, Carl. That headline is downright awful and it wouldn’t even make sense to an educated farm animal.” Other than Carl’s friend choice, he needs to work on his headline writing, too.

Ambiguity. Be sure to watch out for it. When you carelessly write a headline, it’s possible that it could mean two things. Also, avoid headlines that are in bad taste, especially with tragedies.

Here are a few examples:

JUVENILE COURT TO TRY SHOOTING DEFENDANT

MINERS REFUSE TO WORK AFTER DEATH

DRUNK GETS NINE MONTHS IN VIOLIN CASE

Check spelling. Enough said. Sometimes spell check is reliable, though, so be sure to scan the type with your best spellchecker — your eyes.

Check cutlines for spelling and facts, too. People love looking at pretty pictures. If there’s a photo of a boy and his dog, Mercutio, and the cutline reads: “Bob Jay sits with her dog, Mercutio, on a farm in Haw River,” Bob Jay might be pretty angry if he finds out he’s refereed to as a girl. Especially since he probably thinks girls have cooties.

–Eva Hill

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