Guys, am I bad at headlines?

One of my major duties with I’m From Driftwood this winter is to help prep the new video story for weekly release–BTW, new stories every Wednesday please watch if you want! Or even better, subscribe to the Youtube channel! Or follow the Twitter, where I desperately try to be engaging three days a week!

Anyway, part of this entails coming up with a couple options for titles for both the website and the youtube video (and even for HuffPost, where the story eventually appears).

Three weeks and three stories in and none of my titles have made the final cut. Guys, am I bad at titles?

I think a lot of the problem comes from my experience as a newspaper editor in high school. I was in charge of the middle pages, the ones no body cared about, read, or wanted to write stories for. So like every week 20 percent of the layout had to be headlines to make up for the totally lazy/disinterested writers who would always come up a good 200 words short of their guideline. In other words, in my mind, headlines are long–almost always the double line kind, and my favorite is Catchy Phrase: Long explanatory sentence. But my supervisor doesn’t seem to have the same taste in headlines…Like at all. The ones he likes are things I never would have thought of no matter how long I stuck with it.

Which I mean, is fine.

He definitely knows better–He’s been running this website by himself pretty much for so long now and he definitely has a feel for what appeals to his audience. And my last experience is almost four years old and for a print-based high school audience–totally different. So in other words I need to get better (or just learn how to write it the way he wants, the way that’s best for this situation.)

So okay. I already pretty much learned how to do the Tweeting in about a week (doubled my Tweet engagement rate even) so how hard can this be? It’s like basically the same thing even. And yet, for Twitter I was so easily able to find what basically amounted to a formula–put the link 1/4 through, end with 10 characters to spare, always include an @–yet I find all the advice blogs for writing headlines is just plain bad. 

For example. I saw one blog that claimed to offer me the formula I sought, but in the end it amounted to “5 easy ways you can save 20% on car insurance!” And I’m like really? That’s a scam. That’s literally all I think when I see a headline like that–and they’re always the ones that are sneaked into the awkward corners of a website with a fakely smiling stock image of an old lady. The whole thing just feels gross.

Am I wrong? Is this what headlines are now?

One of my major concerns comes with this idea of “Genuinity.” Like, capturing the true voice of a community and engaging with it in a way that is respectful and comes from a place of understanding. Not simply appropriating words and pretending I understand what they mean, but actually speaking/engaging in  conversation in a way that makes sense to the community that owns that conversation.

So, my question is, do I have to sell out to do it? What if the community represents something I don’t believe in–what if one of the core values is the idea of “fake?” Of putting a glitzy glam on things? Like buzzfeed or upworthy–are those bad communities just because they represent the desire to dress up reality? Is it a compromise of the genuine?

I’d say my supervisor doesn’t fall into that with his headlines–He consciously has made the decision on where to draw the line between “click-bait” and self-respect. And yet, even one of his headlines, this one about a Sikh man choosing to leave behind his religion, has drawn criticism, especially on Youtube, for the way it seems to equate his religion with his decision to come out and his anxiety in doing so. And I have to admit, coming from a privileged, white, Western mindset, that idea appeals to my brain–Oh, it was the turban that made him feel oppressed! This reaffirms my beliefs about turbans and conservative cultures, I should click it! When in reality, maybe I don’t know anything about Sikhism at all and I just want to feel like I can make some kind of knee-jerk judgment like that from the brief statement of a headline.

I wonder, is anything genuine in the digital age, or are we just hungry for the most exaggerated version of events we can produce in 140 characters or less? And what does that mean for me?


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