This Headline Made Me Spill My Coffee

By Mike Feinsilber

This headline appeared April 22 on the top of page one of the Washington Post:

GOP camps
game out
picks for
No. 2 slot

It was in the off-lead position—top of the page, left hand column, a place reserved for the day’s second most important story. (The top right is where the day’s top story appears because that’s where the eye goes first, or has been trained to go first.)

What’s wrong with the headline is that it is hard—for me it was impossible—to figure out what it is saying.

That was because the headline uses three words that could be verbs, usually are, but are nouns in the headline.

“Camps,” and “picks” are the verbs serving as nouns. “Game” is usually a noun; the Post uses it as a verb. “Slot” is usually a noun, and that’s the way it’s used.

The headline writer picked those words not to confuse you but because they’re short, so they fit—they conform to the headline schedule and the fonts the Post chooses to use.

Don’t blame the headline writer. At the Post, the job is almost impossible and it leads to headlines which defy meaning at first glance, or second or third.

That’s hardly a headline’s purpose.

One solution would be to use skinnier headline type. The New York Times does and doesn’t have the Post’s comprehension problems.

Luckily for the Post, luckily for the reader, the Post story’s subheadline, the smaller secondary headline whose purpose is to elaborate on the main headline above it, gives us an explanation. It read:

Possibility of a contested
Convention complicates
Vice-presidential calculus

Online, without the restrictions the print edition must adhere to, the headline was even clearer:

GOP veepstakes begin: Candidates start building lists and vetting prospects

Oh, that’s what they meant.

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