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What's In a Name? Controversal Headlines Can Add To Story Longevity and Reach

Mark Kollar  Follow

Two stories of late, both featured prominently in The Wall Street Journal, have received a tremendous amount of “play,” by extending their front-page shelf life through TV broadcasts, Twitter, second-day stories and letters to the editors. Granted, the topics were interesting and touched a nerve. But what really seemed to get the ink rolling were BIG, SCREAMING front-page headlines, writ tabloid style. They grab us.

Big Case in Point: Tiger Mom! The book excerpt in The Wall Street Journal with the attention-grabbing headline: “Why Chinese Moms Are Superior,” followed by author interviews denying strong claims; a follow-up story from the Pussy Cat Mom (my phrase); a letter to the editor from “Tiger cub” in the New York Post; subsequent book reviews; and so on and so on and so on (Google Tiger Mom to see hundreds of stories and YouTube entries. You can even be a dolphin mom!).

Smaller Case in Point: Sidewalk Rage. Again, The Journal writes a story with another blaring headline, “Get Out of My Way, You Jerk!” (Is that the Tiger Mom talking?). The piece, spotlighting a study about “sidewalk rage,” became TV fodder, copious Twitter copy, office gossip and overnight is destined to become part of urban vernacular.

As I said, both topics are pretty interesting.  But headlines like “Tough Rules to Raise Kids By” or “Please Let Me Pass” wouldn’t get a second read. My hope: The art of headline writing is back. Remember “Headless Body in Topless Bar”?

My prediction: For headlines, it will be go big or go home. CJP

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