I have written headlines. So many I don’t remember the number. When I just started headline writing in 2009, it was a pain, so much to say with very little space. So I learned to be unkind with words, chopping off the redundancies and ‘complicated’ words and phrases that the reader won’t like or understand.

“Be simple. Communicate to the reader. Don’t say too much. Don’t say too little. Make it interesting but don’t exaggerate.” That’s what I learned at school and at work.

There are times headlines replay in your head. Even when the page is proofed and passed, you go home wondering whether you missed the letter ‘s’ in the word ‘controversy’ or referred to Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah as Olanya.

When you make that mistake, your head remains bowed as you avoid accusatory glances cast in your direction. You slap your head to stop wondering about how far your mistake has travelled, or who ‘has seen it in the papers’. To err, [even in headline writing] is human. But you are a sub-editor, the copy cleaner, so you have to deliver the best, the correct headline. The reader does not expect you to write ‘Fiance’ when you meant ‘Finance’, they don’t want to read ‘Manger’ when you should have written ‘Manager’.  That’s the uncomfortable reality.

I still write headlines and I’ve read even more. Some are smartly done and will arrest your attention– Kabaka Mwanga: Sweet sinner or savage saint?, others are simply put; Museveni  eats to death, another one will leave you gasping for breath – PS Bigirimana in trouble over Shs20b OPM cash as detectives turn his Kampala house upside down.

When I perused through today’s Daily Monitor, the conjunction ‘as’ was used five times in headlines, the New Vision used ‘over’ nine times, while The Observer used the full colon seven times, with some wrongly punctuated (See list below). All these could have been coincidental.  But whatever it is, I got reminded that headline writing is an art. It requires creativity, simplicity and consciousness about every word or punctuation used.

The Observer – Monday 22-23, 2013 (32 pages)

  1. Nsenga murder case: Kabega scared, quits. P. 1
  2. Lukwago demo: Police warns 4GC. P. 5
  3. Aronda: would MPs share stage with Mandela. P.6
  4. Aronda: battle going to court. P.9
  5. Sectarianism law: a critical politician’s trap lingers on. P. 23
  6. Food security: Uganda looks to Chinese millet
  7. UNCLE PAT: the man who united Express

Daily Monitor, Wednesday July 24, 2013 (36 pages)

  1. Teargas, bullets as police battle Besigye. P.1
  2. Joy as prince is born in the UK. P.1  (flag)
  3. Chaos in the city as police tow Besigye car away. P.6
  4. One held as police, suspected robbers engage in gun battle. P.8
  5. Elgon police receive food rations as concerns over salary delay rise. P.8

New Vision, Wednesday July 24, 2013 (44 pages)

  1. Broke MPs cry out to Museveni over debts. P. 1
  2. Couple sues Mulago boss over lost twin. P. 2
  3. Officials questioned over Ggaba Sacco. P.5 (pix)
  4. Man arrested over church money. P.7
  5. Over 20 families encroach on Sheema wetland. P.7
  6. Masindi Police hold three over murder. P.7
  7. Mbale authorities to probe leaders over extortion. P.8
  8. Police arrest Soroti couple over daughter’s defilement. P.8
  9. Nigeria federation bans players for life over ‘fake’ results. P.44

[Hoping to read the best headline for this ‘headlineless’ piece]

9 thoughts on “‘Headlineless’

  1. Reblogged this on the bat philosophy and commented:
    Dear Sub Editors,
    You can’t get it any better. Learn from here. So nice. Is it a coincidence that today, Observer, Monitor and Vision had all those punctuations/ adjectives overused? Nice obversation.


    1. Nice obversation or observation, Jacobs? There you go, Harriet. Probable headline error: Obversation! Obverse as noun (formal); the other side of something; opposite. The Obverse as noun (specialised); the front side of a coin which has the main picture on it. Pg 855, Cambridge International Dictionary of English.


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