BASICS OF NEWS REPORTING AND WRITING #2: How To Write A Headline
This is the second in our series on the Basics of News Reporting and Writing. Before proceeding with this segment, it is advisable that you go through the first segment by clicking on its title below.
In this segment of the series, we shall look at how to write a news story, particularly the headline.
HOW TO WRITE A NEWS STORY
Once you’ve concluded your coverage of an event, you should not delay to write the story. In fact, professional journalists begin composing their stories while an event is going on.
When there is a break or lull in the proceedings, you see them working on their tablets or laptops. As soon as the event ends, they complete their stories, tidy them up and forward to their editors via the internet.
This is the beauty of working in the digital era. People’s devices, including their cell phones, have different apps that make them serve many functions that they would have needed separate equipment for. These devices also operate in a multi-media format and they process content much faster than equipment in the analogue era.
Thus, a reporter can record both the audio and video of an event; conduct interviews; take still pictures; type, edit and format his story as well as make up a page (if need be) combining the text, sound and images within a short while.
At the very least, he can get his story ready with a word processor, edit selected pictures with his photo app and upload them as attachments to his editor via a dedicated Web platform or email the attachments to him.
At The Record newspaper, we usually cut students some slack because they often need to engage in a back-and-forth with the editorial team to sort out issues in their stories and they have competing academic demands to attend to.
Therefore, while we excuse their inability to submit their stories the same day the events they covered occurred, after two or three days, they have duds on their hands. (For feature stories, we grant a few more days due to the extra work required to write such a story.)
We shall now look at how to write various parts of a news story.
HOW TO WRITE A HEADLINE
The title of a news story is called a headline. Although headline writing falls under News Editing, we expect students to submit one with their story, hence the need to learn how to write them.
Characteristics of headlines
- Headlines should be concise.
It’s just meant to give a glimpse into the essence of the story, not tell the whole story.
How do we ensure that headlines are concise?
a. They are not full sentences. They are skeletonised.
b. Headlines omit articles (a, the).
c. They omit period signs at the end like other story titles.
d. Headlines replace conjunctions with commas.
e. Headlines use simple words (just like the bodies of news stories).
f. Headlines avoid repetitions.
g. Headlines use abbreviations.
h. Headlines use numerals, rather than spell out numbers.
i. Headlines are mostly written in the present tense.
The present tense is usually shorter than other tenses and gives a sense of immediacy to the story.
Examination of a Sample Headline
Now, let’s take a look at the headline of the UNN matric story (the story we pointed out will be used as a reference point in the first segment of this series).
UNN Places High Premium on Character, Humanity – VC to New Students
Points To Note:
a. Notice that this headline is not a full sentence.
b. Does it say, “The University of Nigeria, Nsukka,” or “The Vice-chancellor of …”? No, it doesn’t. It omitted the articles and used abbreviations.
c. Instead of “Character and Learning,” it says “Character, Learning.”
d. UNN and VC were each used only once in it.
Characteristics of headlines contd.
- A headline should contain the essence of the story.
The headline of a news story should be written from the most important part of the story.
“UNN Holds Its 48th Matric. Ceremony” is not a good headline. It is a label title. It does not capture the news of the occasion.
What was the most important thing that happened?
What was the most important thing that was said?
That will give you the information needed for your headline.
In a match story, people love to hear the outcome of the match in the headline. When an important event happens, people want to immediately hear what the government official or captain of industry who was a special guest said. Consider the headlines of the story on ManCity’s defeat of Arsenal in the FA Cup and the one on the census referred to in the first segment of this series:
City Knock Arsenal Out From FA Cup
A poorer headline would have read like this:
Manchester City Meets Arsenal in FA Cup Match at Etihad Stadium
2023 National Census Will Be Fully Digital – DG, NIPSS
This declaration was made at an event which would have been mentioned in a bad headline like this:
Association of Nigerian Geographers holds 62nd Annual National Conference at UNN
- Correct the following hypothetical headlines based on what you have learned so far:
a. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Has Assured Nigerians that He Has Their Best Interests at Heart.
b. Nigerians Are Anxiously Awaiting the Presidential Elections.
c. The Dean, Faculty of Arts, Prof. Paul Obi-ani, Reveals He Supports NUC Directive to Close Universities
d. Veteran Nollyword Actor and Lawyer, Kenneth Okonkwo, Calls Atiku and Tinubu Tried Politicians
e. Ohaneze Ndi Igbo Has Declared that Igbos Love Nigeria.
The series continues with its third and final segment. Share and send me feedback and questions via the Comments section below.