3: Headlines matter most

Being able to write strong headlines is a must-have skill for newspaper editors: Headlines are the third most viewed page element after photos and cutlines and the one element editors are solely responsible for.
On a paper's Internet site, heads are even more essential. They are the first, and often only, element read by online readers and therefore must be almost perfect.
Print and online heads must both have the same fundamental elements: strong verbs, accuracy, avoiding jargon, selling the story, fitting the space, using active voice, summarizing the article, etc.
But that's where the similarity ends.
Online heads have more important jobs than merely luring readers into the story. The must also lure computers.
Today there are software programs that scour the web, analyzing and ranking online news articles on behalf of Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN.
Even more important, some news aggregator sites use programs that can take a story straight from your paper and upload it onto their site, writes Howard I. Finberg, a former journalist with the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
The headline you wrote for the Daily Gleaner is the same headline the Prime Minister reads in Ottawa.
Simply put, online heads must be everything their paper siblings were, plus contain a plethora of nouns for the Google news aggregator.
For example, European media expert Steffen Fjaervik says he never bothered to read a story RSSed to him titled "Dramatic change" because, even though he was interested in immigration policy, he had no clue as to what the story was about.
He agrees the head would make sense in a newspaper with a photo beside it, but on a cellphone's WAP reader or an RSS headline-only display, it was useless.
It's possible to be clever, get noticed by the computer algorithms and still impress readers, he argues, citing a recent Wired headline "Meteor Impact Theory Takes a Hit."
With RSS and WAP, readers are even relying on headlines alone to give them the news.
Heads better be good and they better be informative, Fjaervik writes.
Of course, if you can't be witty, you can still accurate.
The BBC caters to both humans and bots by offering two headlines.
The first, often the main one on their homepage, is meant to attract humans.
Then click to read the story and you get a more factual headline with the article itself.
For example, the reader gets "Tulsa star: The life and career of much-loved 1960's singer," but one click down the search engine bots find: "Obituary: Gene Pitney."
Media consultant Amy Gahran says online papers would be better off putting more effort into crafting effective headlines, rather than relying on cumbersome, ineffective fixes like tooltips.
Even if a paper has tooltips, most readers won't bother dragging their cursor over "Erie residents seek a reprieve" because it's neither engaging nor informative, she writes. (The story is about oil and gas drilling.)
When it comes headline writing, Fjaervik summed it up with one simple rule: Boring is better than useless.

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