Has the Internet Killed Witty Headlines?

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Journalism has had to change rapidly and radically in recent years, and the New York Times' David Carr uncovers an overlooked casualty of the digital revolution: the headline. Carr raises the topic--and demonstrates it--in his deceptively-titled piece, "Taylor Momsen Did Not Write This Headline."

Momsen has nothing to do with the article, as Carr explains, except that her name is a "prized key word." Putting her in the headline, then, could attract more eyeballs, showing Carr's basic point: online news sites are abandoning clever, indirect headlines in favor of of more eye-grabbing (and search-grabbing) phrases.

Headlines in newspapers and magazines were once written with readers in mind, to be clever or catchy or evocative. Now headlines are just there to get the search engines to notice. ... Keep in mind that all of the things that make headlines meaningful in print — photographs, placement and context — are nowhere in sight on the Web. Headlines have become, as Gabriel Snyder, the recently appointed executive editor of Newsweek.com, “naked little creatures that have to go out into the world to stand and fight on their own.”

Carr points to the Huffington Post as a particularly skilled practitioner of the art:

The Huffington Post knows its way around search engine optimization, or S.E.O. as it’s known. A story about whether the president would play golf with Rush Limbaugh was headlined: "Obama Rejects Rush Limbaugh Golf Match: Rush 'Can Play With Himself.'" It’s digital nirvana: two highly searched proper nouns followed by a smutty entendre, a headline that both the red and the blue may be compelled to click, and the readers of the site can have a laugh while the headline delivers great visibility out on the Web.

Is the Internet killing the art of pithy, punny, witty headlines?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.