Question Headlines: No, The Fourth Estate, the Answer Is Not 99% No

Tweet from The Fourth Estate:


It is disappointing to see WaPo using questions as headlines. Long story short, if the headline is a question the answer is 99% “no”.


  1. Question headlines are like the click-bait of the newspaper, inspiring curiosity and daring the reader to engage.

    In a newsprint world I would agree with you. The problem is that in digital the headlines and maybe a short summary are often the only component of a news package that someone would consume*.

    That means headlines should, and usually must be able to stand on their own from a perspective of good journalism.

    Love this post. Thanks for engaging!


    * You can also make that argument for TV Chyron’s or tickers.

  2. Dear Jack,

    The one thing I’m sure of about questions is that they are the most powerful form of suggestion.

    Masterfully crafted questions are the art of arts, the essence of science.

    One of the finest book titles (and book) is Richard Feynman’s “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” as a sequel to “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

    I suspect that the coolest crafting of headline questions for both newspapers and screen journalism is probably in the future. I currently notice increasingly clever and scientific efforts on the part of headline writers to enter the reader’s mind with a suggestion that will at least trigger a few volleys of un-rutted thought.

    If a question only provokes a “Yes” or a “No” then it was hardly worth writing. Such questions suggest only: “Search your subconscious for the most preconceived and reflexive answer and blurt it out.” Politicians like to ask those questions because controlled response is what they thrive on.

    I wondered: “What if every headline in the New York Times today (June 30, 2017) was a question?”

    Turns out that almost every headline on Page 1 and the small refer heads could easily be made into good questions, and quite a few already were questions.

    The biggest problem with question heads, I think, is that they ask a reader to think more complex and time consuming thoughts than some are willing. How much thinking is a good editor willing to ask a reader to do?


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