Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Our Favorite Headline of the Week

Are Married White Men in Convertibles Doomed to Deafness? The headline on this CNet story does what good headlines are supposed to do: it stops you (or at least it stopped me) and beckons your attention. I don't know about you, but I couldn't resist reading on to learn more. Is it only because I happen to share two of three attributes mentioned (I'm a white married guy, but alas, I'm convertible-less)? That doesn't hurt, I suppose. But I think it's also just inspired headline writing. On the other hand, does the story deliver on the headline's promise (another important but often overlooked element of good headline writing)? On this question, we report; you decide. Meanwhile, you can review earlier favorite headlines here.


At 3:18 PM, Blogger Diane Vogel Ferri said...

Oh, so THAT'S why none of them listen!!! It's either that or rock concert over exposure.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I think I'll pass on this subject, Diane (at least for today), since it's an especially raw subject just now in our house. But I'd love to hear everyone else's reactions.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger LIVE TO EAT said...

Passing on this subject is a good move, John, you are a wise man.

Perhaps no one actually suffers from hearing loss but simply prefers selective hearing?

At 4:59 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

And it's selective hearing based on the underlying principle that humans (male humans especially) are conditioned to tune out most messages when they represent something like the 407th repetition of said message in the last week. Now I've gone and done it, haven't I? Are you a married guy, Michael?

At 5:05 PM, Anonymous Kristine said...

Selective hearing definitely applies to my children. (But they're not married.)

This is a great example of a great headline. It's also an example of how the story disappointed me after the headline. It started in with stats right away, which tend to bore me, but that's just me. I think the paragraph about the study should've been moved up top.

By the way, when you are pitching article ideas to editors, how important is the headline that you come up with? I know they change it anyways, but how important do you think it is in the query?

At 5:21 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Funny, I hadn't thought of it in the context of kids (the eternal war between the sexes in marriage on this topic took up all the oxygen for me) but of course that really applies to them.

I had the same thought also, Kim, that the story didn't really deliver on the headline, which is why I asked the question. These days, a lot of publications actually have what they call SEO headlines (for search engine optimization, or words and phrases friendly to Google) as well as the real headlines. And that's given rise to a whole new wave of eye-catching headlines that oversell a story. These publications will soon learn that readers won't trust them for long if they keep doing this, and just tune out. So I think it's short-sighted.

You ask a great question about article pitches, and of course you're right that they're likely to be changed anyway. But I think coming up with a good headline (and don't forget subheads, which are just as important) are maybe even more important for you as a writer, to help focus your idea and express it in its most essential, stripped-down elements. Think of it as the of equivalent of "elevator pitches" for start-up companies, or explanations of what a company is that's short enough to tell someone while on a short elevator ride.

It'll depend widely on the publication and editor about how important that will be in the pitch. Besides, I'm not a big believer in stray pitches (that's a subject for another time, I suppose), but a believer instead in forming fewer but closer personal relationships with editors who get to know and trust you as a writer, and who thus are relying less on the quality of an isolated "pitch" than they are on your track record for delivering something good, on time, with a minimum of problems. Like everyone else in the world, editors like to do business with people who make their jobs and their lives easier. Naturally, I recognize the challenge is different for novice and intermediate writers, who are trying to get that initial foot in the door. So that is grounds for further discussion.

Anyway, I hope I haven't gone on and bored you or anyone else, but that's my attempt at an answer to your very good question today. I may well have some additional thoughts later, and of course would love to hear others' input as well.

At 6:25 PM, Blogger LIVE TO EAT said...

No, John, I am not yet married. I am, however, very happy to be celebrating 12 blissful years with my partner and I do look forward to marriage.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wonderful. That sounds even better, Michael.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...


* what???? *

At 9:20 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, the whole thing doesn't seem to work as well without the ever-complaining wife. Without that key ingredient, it's just guys being guys.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I dunno, I think it's all about roles in some ways. I've known a few gay couples who pretty much match the straight male/female stereotypes; I think that's extreme, even clchéd, to let oneself fall into those kind of culturally-determined patterns, gay OR straight.

What save it all, and I'm sorry to have to resort to another cliché, is the love in the relationship. "I'll put up with your foibles if you'll put up with mine." I found that my parents, who genuinely did love each other, knew to respect each other's unique needs for personal space.

It's early and I'm sure I would be a lot more profound about this if I weren't deafened by driving all day in my (mythical) convertible. . . .


As for the article, noise-induced hearing loss is a problem in our very loud civilization. I saved an article in my files 20 years ago about a study showing that using the Sony Walkman (or similar portable music tech) had increased loss in young adults by a noticeable and worrisome amount. The article also recommended earphones over earbuds as being better for preserving hearing.

One wonders these days about iPods and cellphones.

I remember a similar study in one of my Dad's medical journals he used to get while still practicing that talked about how most truckers were more deaf in left ears. It's about leaving the window open at 70mph; not only the road noise but also the wind hitting the side of your head for hours at a time.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Some interesting food for thought here about sex roles. Thanks for that. And of course cliches often/usually/just about always get to be cliches because they contain truthful elements that resonate widely.

I hadn't thought of this till now, but I was really struck with the deafening loudness of our culture not while at a rock concert or any of the other typical kinds of venues, but while attending a couple dozen Cavs games over a two month stretch in 2005, when I was reporting on a story about Lebron James. The noise level at pro sporting events, particularly indoor venues where the sounds of course reverberates that much more, is simply unbelievable. And maybe it wouldn't have been so noticeable if I had gone to my normal diet of a game every other month or so. But when you do it back-to-back in close succession, the ear starts to revolt.

Pro sports franchises apparently believe that the under 25/30 age group has to be lured to sporting events by pretending they're also pop music events. I was really turned off by the constant aural assault, and came away thinking it was yet one more victory for the idiot culture.

Thoughts, anyone?

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Kristine said...

You make excellent points on the headlines and queries, and getting to know the editors. I've been doing so much "cold calling" by ways of queries, and it's frustrating, so I guess my headlines need to grab 'em.

BTW, the Cavs games are SO LOUD. Not only because we've accidentally sat in Loudville (or whatever they call it), but you're right, they're target-marketing the 25-30's (because they buy more beer at $12 a pop?)

At 3:53 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You raise a great related point. I think anyone who buys concessions at a major pro sports game these days ought to have their head examined. The quality of the stuff is way worse than years ago, and the prices are simply outrageous.

Having said that, due to lifelong conditioning begun in childhood, I find it next to impossible to attend a baseball game without ordering at least one hot dog with stadium mustard. Okay, I should confess the number is actually more like two.


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