Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When Your #1 Goal Is to Get Read

One of the news stories we are running in tomorrow's edition of our ezine is "Canada: Hindu Family Healed, Lost Keys Found."

My first thought was to rewrite that headline - is it really news that a guy lost his keys and found them again? Actually it is, and the incongruity that first got my attention, grew on me. I think I'll keep it. Will it make people want to read the article?

I enjoy reading The Guardian newspaper (from the UK) partly because they seem to give editors free rein to come up with the most interesting headlines they can produce. Consider these stories that I felt compelled to click through and read yesterday on the basis of the link text:

Dating Site Expels 5,000 after Festive Weight Gain
Barack Obama Effigy Hanged in Georgia

It does bring up some strategic and perhaps ethical issues, though - writers can persuade readers to do what they want - at least temporarily: to begin reading an article they might not turn to otherwise. If you write compelling and evocative text about something that turns out to be not so interesting after all, though, and you do it often, readers may eventually stop trusting what you have to say. So, do you use all your powers, or not? If so, where do you draw the line?

Magazines do this a lot with their cover copy - such as making a big deal out of some article that turns out be just a little thing buried somewhere in the back of the book, not the feature implied.

The roommate recently picked up a women's magazine of the type that alternates article about expensive beauty products and tempting recipes with advice on saving money and losing weight. Guess that reflects and responds to the conflicting desires so many of us juggle. But a steady diet of such magazines would probably increase one's unhappiness level.

The editor showed some restraint, though, in a human interest story for a column they call "My Hometown." This one featured a family in North Pole, AK. I couldn't help but notice - though the editor restrained herself from commenting - that they named their first-born child, "Nick." Now, that's just wrong. Poor kid.

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