“I am deeply resentful that others write my headlines,” says Peggy Noonan, “and deeply relieved I don’t have to.”
It’s rare for journalists to write their own headlines for at least a couple of reasons: (1) “Reporters are naturally promoters of their own work; if they could write the headlines, they would be likely to exaggerate the story’s appeal or importance,” and (2) “Bad headlines cost the paper credibility, or appeal, or clarity. The top editors have to be responsible for them.”
I’d add a third reason: Writing headlines sucks.
Give me an assignment to write 500 words on the genius of Jerry Garcia and I’ll have it on your desk in 30 minutes. Tell me to write the headline, though, and you won’t hear from me for a week.
It turns out that it takes a special kind of talent to be able to “entice, intrigue, or provoke”—and to do it in a minimum of character spaces. It also turns out that I do not possess this talent.
But hey, I’m devilishly handsome and a witty raconteur, so I’ve got that going for me at least.