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Web headline browsing is not serendipitous

July 13, 2009

I just flipped through my “journalism” folder in Google Reader, hoping to find something interesting to blog about. Out of 40-odd entries, I found nothing. Nothing. (No offense to anyone who I follow, as you’re all normally incredibly interesting. )

The thing is, there probably was something interesting in my Reader, I just didn’t find it—and here’s why:

This is just one folder. If you want me to click on something, I really have to have good reason.

This is just one folder. If you want me to click on something, I really have to have good reason.

In my entire Google Reader, I’ve got anywhere between 100 and more than 1,000 unread items at a time and I’m only going to get to a fraction of them. Why do I do this? Because I’m an information junkie. How do I do this? By skimming through headlines and deciding what’s interesting or relevant to me. (Yes, it’s the Internet age and everything’s about “me! me! me!”—just get used to it.)

Sure, Web headline writing is an art form when you consider the SEO implications, but even if search engines start to outsmart headlines, information overload will always be a reason to write good (re: specific) ones. For example: I live in Ballard. If I come across an item in my Seattle folder (pictured above) that says something like, “Local man robs bank,” well whoop-dee-doo. What’s local? Which bank? I’m not even asking myself these questions because I already don’t care and neither does anyone else (because a guy on Capitol Hill or some lady in West Seattle is probably going through the same thought process). A specific headline—”Ballard man robs Fred Meyer bank near marina”—draws me in because the story’s relevance to me is apparent.

Be relevant. And if you can’t, be interesting. Just please let the stupid, pun-y headlines die in the print bullpen, please.

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