To be perfectly honest (don’t get used to it) I think I write lousy headlines.
Like pretty much anything else, when it’s done well it looks easy which makes the rest of us think it must be easy, an opinion that changes drastically once you try it.
Since writing good headlines is actually hard, the Kansas City Star once brought in an expert to teach us to write headlines that were SEO-friendly (which sounds really dirty until you find out SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and then it sounds really boring) and the goal was to write headlines that would be more likely to pop up when people did a Google search.
So the Einstein of the Internet stood up in front of us and pointed out that we constantly wrote headlines about the “Kansas City Chiefs,” but failed to use the “National Football League Kansas City Chiefs” which would theoretically make our stories about the Chiefs appear in internet searches for anything related to the NFL and being just the kind of guy who can’t keep his mouth shut even when he should, I asked if it was really a good idea to write headlines that would appear in internet searches, but sounded so goddamn boring no one would read the stories.
Plus, if you had to add “National Football League” every time you mentioned the Chiefs the headlines would get incredibly long and wouldn’t fit in the available space and the Star actually flew a guy in from another state to give us this incredibly bad advice.
I felt certain we could have saved traveling expenses by getting incredibly bad advice from someone local – there was no shortage of candidates – but as you probably already know a prophet is not accepted in his own hometown; a bit of wisdom uttered by Jesus Christ after he came back to Nazareth following a successful stand-up tour of the Middle East and was talking to an old classmate when Jesus happened to mention he was the Son of God and the old classmate said:
“Hey, I used to steal your lunch money and give you wedgies when we both attended third grade at Nazareth Elementary. Son of God, my ass.”
An incredibly revealing quote they somehow managed to leave out of the Bible, probably because I just made it up, but let’s face it; any book that has a story about a guy living for three days inside a whale probably isn’t overly concerned with fact-checking so you’d think they could include my Son of God story because I’m way funnier than Jonah and now that I think about it, the Bible has a conspicuous lack of funny characters which is probably why Modern-Day Christians think they have to walk around with a 2 x 4 up their ass.
Being a smartass I decided to follow the advice to cram recognizable names and titles into my next baseball story and thought it was absolutely brilliant when I wrote that at the previous night’s Royals game the Beatles did not play the National Anthem and Madonna did not throw out the first pitch, although the opinion that this was a brilliant idea was not shared by the Star’s editors.
Pearls before swine, dude.
Which was either said by Jesus Christ or maybe Hall of Fame Smartass Dorothy Parker when Parker held a door for some younger woman and the younger woman said, “Age before beauty” and Parker said, “Pearls before swine…bitch!” even though I also made up the “bitch” part, but I think we can all agree that’s exactly what Dorothy was thinking.
All of which reminds me of the time the editorial board spent an entire day writing down our goals for the coming year and when we had to do the exact same thing the following year, I said why don’t we use the goals from last year because we didn’t actually do any of that stuff.
As those of you who have ever worked in a bureaucracy already know: the important thing wasn’t to actually do anything, the important thing was to write down our goals so when someone higher up the food chain asked what we were up to we could say:
“Reimagining the optimization of our bandwidth as we pivot to enhance our collectivity ability in regards to low-hanging fruit.”
Which kinda sounds like we were listening to the radio while picking apples, but actually doesn’t mean jack shit and makes anyone who hears that collection of bureaucratic buzzwords want to jam a couple No. 2 pencil into both ears so they can spend the rest of their lives hearing nothing but white noise.
The concept of a “Class Clown” is well established and I felt I was breaking new ground – “thinking outside the cubicle” – by becoming a “Meeting Clown” an innovation that was just as welcome as my suggestion that we start mentioning Lady Gaga’s lack of attendance in our stories about City Council meetings.
After we talked about the effect the internet was having on our news stories (they needed to be short and shallow to get people to read them which doesn’t say anything good about people) I said:
“I feel like I’m hand-crafting fine Italian loafers and the whole world’s wearing flip flops.”
A pithy bon mot which apparently got repeated in a completely different meeting, because later an editor asked me if I could lay off saying witty shit that ridiculed whatever “game-changing” rearranging of Titanic deck chairs we were currently pursuing.
So where were we?
Right, my marginal ability to write good headlines and I’m thinking of employing the Seinfeld policy of wasting absolutely no creativity or time on titles or headlines which is why that series had classic episodes called things like: The Contest or The Soup Nazi or The Chinese Restaurant.
As Jerry said: any creativity they had should go into the script, not the title of the script.
BTW: Seinfeld did not follow the stereotypical pattern for TV comedies, which alarmed NBC executives. Jerry and Elaine were not a couple, the stories did not have traditional story “arcs” or teach morals (before each show the cast would chant their motto…”No hugging, no learning”…and yes, they’re hugging in the above photo, but I feel fairly certain they didn’t enjoy it and issued a collective “Ewwww” right after the photo was taken).
After an NBC executive saw The Chinese Restaurant episode he said: “It’s funny, but nothing happens.”
To which Jerry replied: “Could we go back to the first thing you said?”
If it was funny why did it also have to teach a lesson about honesty or bullies or being a true friend or any of that other shit Hollywood promotes in their television shows, but does not actually believe for one second?
Despite Corporate America’s lip service to “innovation” and “creativity” and “thinking outside the box” the people who run things are actually horrified when presented with something that isn’t exactly like everything else that has already been successful.
And when something truly original or innovative somehow manages to slip through the net of mediocrity and is successful (and right now I’m thinking of Seinfeld and The Far Side) Corporate America fails to learn the right lesson and doesn’t say: “Give us more weird and wild projects that aren’t like anything else” and instead says: “Give us more shows like Seinfeld and more one-panel comics like the Far Side.”
So if you require clickbait headlines like You’ll Never Believe What She Wore on the Red Carpet or 10 Household Items That Are Trying to Kill You you’re probably fishing off the wrong pier.
If I’ve got anything funny or creative or informative to say, it’ll be in the article and not in the headline so you’re actually going to have to read this stuff to find out.
Because I suck at writing headlines.