I write Affirmative Headlines

This morning, I responded to a Betanews commenter who asks: “I’m curious though about one thing and have been for a time. Does a Editor or someone else choose your titles or do you?” He responded to my story “I’m Microsoft All-In“, writing: “I personally have found my groove with ‘All-in Apple. for many years.

He asks a good question, and I answer at length, which I share below (and not in block quotes for readability reasons):

I write my own headlines, typically while working on a story or after finishing it. The style is intentionally aggressive, and when I started using it not that common for online news stories. Now you see the approach everywhere. I use verbs.

Newspaper tradition is something like these actual headlines from stories I wrote for CNET in the 2000s: “Windows XP to get Bluetooth Support”; “Netscape pushing for Penalties”; or “Apple tries to woo Windows Defectors”. I didn’t write these headlines. Mine, then as now, use active verbs and affirmative voice. I would rewrite those three: “Windows XP gets Bluetooth Support”; “Netscape pushes for Penalties”; and “Apple woos Windows Defectors”.

I am a firm believer that good headlines, and stories supporting them, should use present tense, as I explain here. In headlines, present tense affirms, or it provokes, which some people find offensive. The objective is to get them to stop and read, not stop and click.

In my book, Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers, I lay out important headline philosophy:

I don’t advocate linkbaiting, which seeks to maximize links among aggregators and some social hangouts online; it’s an advertising and attention-getting tactic. Snappy and provocative headlines predate the Internet by a century or so. Your goal is the same as print-era journalists—to get people to stop and read. Provocative headlines capture and engage audience. A solidly sourced and reported story behind a provocative hed is altogether different from linkbait. Your objective is audience, not quick clicks or links.

BTW, I’ve done Apple All-In, and it’s a great lifestyle, and one that Yosemite and iOS 8 surely will make better. Good for you.

If that attitude surprises you, I am not anti-Apple, nor does everything I write reflect my own opinion. I see my role as journalist to look at things from different viewpoints. We live in a 3-dimensional world, and with anything regarding human beings there really is no single cause to effect. Nuances matter. Multiple vantage points are everything.

Besides, I seek to provoke, so that readers will discuss and more importantly think. Over time that creates perception I personally am a bit wishy washy, because the perspective of my writing and technology I use or write about shifts around so much. I like change. New things. Investigating. Analyzing. I was a science geek, not computer nerd in school and still am today.

Journalism and science aren’t that far removed. You start with a hypothesis and seek to prove or disprove it. Difference is presentation, and as a reporter my approach, at least for headlines, provokes.