“Even with the best-crafted headline in the world, for every person who clicks on it, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who see it, digest it, and simply move on. People get their news from headlines now in a way they never did in the past.”
2017 will be the year that news organizations start approaching headlines with the importance they deserve.
A few years ago, around the time that a scary-exciting new thing called “social” started becoming more important than search engine optimization, digital media organizations discovered that nothing mattered more than headlines, at least when it came to getting stories effectively distributed by social media. Organizations like Upworthy and ViralNova embraced aggressive A/B testing and often wound up with hilarious curiosity-gap headlines, but the bigger lesson was deeper: Putting aside whether or not the curiosity gap worked, the first measure of any headline was how effective it was at driving traffic.
That lesson spread, almost by osmosis, throughout the digital media sphere, and we’ve now reached the point at which the amount of time and effort put into “packaging” a story can significantly exceed the amount of time and effort that went into writing it in the first place. And that’s at old-fashioned news organizations which write the story before they have a headline for it. At many digital outlets, you don’t even bother starting to write unless and until there’s a good catchy headline you’re writing to.
What precious few media organizations ever worried about, however, was the fact that even with the best-crafted headline in the world, for every person who clicks on it, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who see it, digest it, and simply move on. People get their news from headlines now in a way they never did in the past, just because they see so many of those headlines on Twitter and Facebook.
Which means that, for any remotely serious news organization, the amount of traffic that a story drives has to be less important than the message that headline imparts, when it’s divorced from the article it sits atop. In 2017, it will be clearly inadequate to excuse a bad headline on the grounds that anybody who hasn’t read the full 4,500-word story is unqualified to pass judgment. Even people who get their news from individual news organizations’ apps find themselves scrolling through headlines these days at a rate which would have been unthinkable in the age of print....MORE