This Is the Headline for the Item That Follows, Which Is About Headlines

April 9th, 2006 by john

One of the pleasures of working at a magazine or newspaper is writing display type — the headline and the explanatory bit that follows, known as the dek. (One of my favorite heds of all time ran above a fashion-week profile of the New York Times’s style editor: Me So Horyn.)

But technology, it seems, may be taking some of that fun away. The Week in Review section of today’s NYT has an interesting piece by Steve Lohr about how search engines — and the desire to rank high in any search results — are changing the way some journalists are billing their work.

So news organizations large and small have begun experimenting with tweaking their Web sites for better search engine results. But software bots are not your ordinary readers: They are blazingly fast yet numbingly literal-minded. There are no algorithms for wit, irony, humor or stylish writing. The software is a logical, sequential, left-brain reader, while humans are often right brain. In newspapers and magazines, for example, section titles and headlines are distilled nuggets of human brainwork, tapping context and culture. “Part of the craft of journalism for more than a century has been to think up clever titles and headlines, and Google comes along and says, ‘The heck with that,’ ” observed Ed Canale, vice president for strategy and new media at The Sacramento Bee.