A BATCH of responses to last week’s hint about “local” in headlines.
Here’s what you had to say:
FROM RICHARD WHITING at The Index-Journal:
Totally agree with Daniel, and it’s one I have preached over and over. Headline writing is, frankly, a dying art among many designers. And a sadly lazy way to “fill out” the line is to add the word “local,” as though readers haven’t already figured out that, hey, it’s my LOCAL newspaper, so this is probably a story about a LOCAL person. One could add to that thought: Even if it’s NOT a local person, the fact that it’s in the paper might make it worth reading. At least the first graph or two, no.
Anyway, I rant. Many page designers have come to want and expect headlines handed to them. How many of us remember reading a story — all the way through, I might add — comprehending the story and then writing a solid headline? How many of us remember refusing to settle and accept the first headline that popped in, just because the damn thing fit? And yes, Ed, I’m no fan of articles and prepositions left as cliff-hangers on the first line of a headline. Sure, the palette we have to work with has narrowed through (not over) the years, but that’s no excuse for laziness, no excuse for awful split headlines, such as a two-liner that reads “Man has sex/case thrown out.”
To show my age and thus likely be labeled an antique in a modern news world, I also remember when we not only wrote the headlines of the stories we thoroughly read and edited, I remember counting the characters in my head and being able to write a headline that fit perfectly — no kerning, no tricks on a computer because — well, because we had to type the headlines on a galley and take it to the composing room where someone keyed it in and printed it out on “C” paper that was then waxed and pasted onto a lined page destined for a camera. From there it became a negative, then a plate, then onto the press. Gas might have been 78 cents a gallon then too, but that’s beside the point.
FROM SCOTT ROBERTSON at the Johnson City News & Neighbor:
Completely agree with the disuse of “local” in the context of a community newspaper. Readers may take it for granted that the news they get from us is completely local, unless the story highlights a non-local element. “Brazilian transfer student referees local soccer league” might be an example of local having some utility.
I like deviating from AP style regarding adding states to nearby town names (such as McKenzie, Tenn., if you are published in Huntingdon, five miles away) except in border communities. Here in Johnson City, Tenn., we are half an hour’s drive away from both the North Carolina and Virginia borders. So those state designations are often important.
FROM TAMMY FRAZIER, Managing Editor at the Camden News:
I use it [“local”] only if it helps with the size of the headline. If the subject is “Teen wins award,” then the size of the font for only three words – if the headline is going completely across the page – will be too large. As we know, adding a few extra words helps with the size of the font. So I sometimes use “local” or “area” so that we don’t end up with a 60-point font in a headline. I hope that makes sense.
FROM RINDA MADDOX at the Sidell (IL) Reporter:
I agree with Mr. Richardson. “Local” is not necessary. My readers know if the person made headlines they are from our local area or were once from our local area or they aren’t making our headlines anyway. Same with states. If the town is listed without a state behind it, our readers are smart enough to know that it means a town within the state where we all live. If it is out of state, we include which one.
FROM LYNNE HUMMEL, Editor at The Bluffton Sun/The Hilton Head Sun:
I agree with Daniel. We often fall into that trap too, sometimes to fill out space in a head (Dr. Henry Price would admonish me for padding headlines!!). Daniel is right – we are a local paper, so it should be understood that ALL our stories have a local slant. I’m going to pay more attention to that going forward. Surely there are other, better words we can use in our headlines.
Also, regarding his comment comparing this issue with the rule about state names after cities, I’d like to note that WE in the industry know that our state is understood when we mention cities within our state. I’m not sure our READERS understand that.
AP says “Make an exception only if confusion would result.” Many, many of our readers (in the low country of South Carolina) are retirees (and tourists) from all over the country, so we often invoke the “confusion” factor when we mention Pickens, Ninety-Six, Lexington or Summerville, etc.
Thanks, Daniel, for reminding us to pay attention.
FROM JERRY BELLUNE:
Food for thought on online and print headline writing. This applies to advertising as well as news and features. Three simple guidelines to keep in mind:
1. What’s in it for the readers? Why should they open and/or read that you’ve written?
2. What’s going on here? Verbs — active verbs — power headlines just as they do sentences. Lets find alternatives for all forms of the verb “to be”.
3. What does it cost or would it cost me? If money is involved, get it into the headline.
FROM JERRY BELLUNE again:
More specifics are even better, such as:
Teen go-cart champ killed in wreck
Rock Hill High principal charged with rape
Church leader named Woman of the Year
Ed Henninger named Designer of the Year
FROM MICHAEL McKINNON at the Atikokan Progress:
I can’t read or think ‘local’ without mentally adding ‘yokel’. I suspect many of my readers are in the same boat.
The only time I use a location identifier, if I can help it, is to describe someone from out of town (City woman, district man, etc.). If they’re in the Progress, they are local unless we advise otherwise….