This headline, of course, is a joke. It’s a joke that builds off of David Carr’s new column about the headline game in the world of RSS feeds, Google searches, and limitless space. The advent of web traffic through search engine optimization, has opened the flood gates to headlines that are all about teasing what’s actually not there. The Huffington Post, as Carr illustrates, has been notorious when it comes to this. Regardless, they’ve been smart.
Nerd alert: in high school, I was a champion UIL headline-writer, so I appreciate the beauty of a great headline (despite my laziness on this blog). It may sound strange, and I can’t believe I’m saying it, but headlines used to be an art form. They were an art form when news was a print medium, and editors had to condense entire news articles into eye-popping sentences, or half-sentences. Nowadays, a headline is all you have to get reader attention, and often that is dictated by cross-reference you never saw coming. From Carr’s piece:
“Taylor Momsen Goes Pantsless, Curses on Morning Television” suggested a headline on The Huffington Post’s “most popular” feature on Friday. She didn’t actually appear bottomless, but that’s part of the trick of writing digitally snappy headlines. It seems almost tasteful next to an MSN take: “Taylor Momsen Vomits On-Stage, Wants to Be Kurt Cobain.”
The Huffington Post knows its way around search engine optimization, or S.E.O. as it’s known. A story about whether the president would play golf with Rush Limbaugh was headlined: “Obama Rejects Rush Limbaugh Golf Match: Rush ‘Can Play With Himself.’ ” It’s digital nirvana: two highly searched proper nouns followed by a smutty entendre, a headline that both the red and the blue may be compelled to click, and the readers of the site can have a laugh while the headline delivers great visibility out on the Web.
The Huffington Post sometimes tests two different headlines in real time to see which the audience is responding to. (“How to Reduce Your Oil Footprint” did better than “How to Say No to Big Oil and Reduce Your Oil Footprint.” Go figure.) The site also uses its Twitter account to solicit reader suggestions on headlines. Arianna Huffington, editor in chief and a founder of the site, rejects any notion that it is dumbing down in search of eyeballs.
In the entertainment world this month, I would argue many news outlets are “tricking” traffic with random articles that discuss the TV show Lost, or the Twilight film franchise. The latter, in particular, has created more worthless “news stories” than any film in recent memory, all in an attempt to gain traffic from unsuspecting tweens. The other half of this issue, though, is what media is all counting on for the future: tags. Filmmakers and musicians are starting to tag their work with misleading terms, hoping to catch a few new fans in their digital net. But that’s an entirely separately discussion.