Mike Elgan: Why This Headline Sucks, Period

Our Mike Elgan points out how trendy news headlines assume your mind is already closed. Or should be. Here are the worst headlines — ever. Period.

aNewDomain.net — Have you noticed the new trend in headlines on the Internet? They emphatically denounce something — as if assuming readers having closed minds is a good thing. When did “close your mind” become a persuasive headline gimmick? Our Mike Elgan takes a closer look at the worst headline trend — ever.

There’s a strident new way to be emphatic in headlines that’s sweeping the Internet: To insist that the reader’s mind be closed on the subject.

As headline gimmicks go, this is a dumb one, and I’ll tell you why below. But first, let’s look at a few choice examples.

For years, people in casual conversation have used the word “period” to end said conversation. As in: This ice cream is the greatest ice cream ever. Period.

PRWeek even used the gimmick in each of the headlines of a three-part series. The first headline was: “PR is a different beast now. Period. Part One.” The second in the series was: “PR is a different beast now. Period. Part Two” and so on.

But wait! You said “period.” Period! Didn’t that signal the end of the discussion?

No, the “period” in a headline is for the reader to shut up and close his mind. The headline writer is commanding you to stop considering an opposing viewpoint and just receive the unchallengeable truth.

An alternative to “period” is “end of story.” As in: “Same-Sex Marriage Bans Violate the Equal Protection Clause. End of Story.”

Or my favorite recent headline: “Marijuana Meets Bacon. They Make Love. End of Story.

Wait, end of story? How can that be the end of the story?

The worst offenders do both: Consider: “Demand Drives Hiring. Period. End of Story.” You could apply this to just about anything. A fad headline for a story about my photo, below, would be: The Best Ice Cream Ever. Period.


Image credit: Mike Elgan

The worst thing about the “period” and “end of story” trend is that a headline is supposed to invite you into the story, not tell you that it’s already ended.

And then there’s the “the only … ever” construction. For example, there’s “The Only College Advice You’ll Ever Need.”

This is a truly-irritating attempt to close minds for emphasis. It’s often done with a wink — a kind of ironic humor. But often not.

No matter what, a headline’s main job is to say: Read this article! But the “the only… ever” trick is overly-possessive of the reader and says: Read this article — and don’t read any other article, either!

That’s asking a lot.

More examples are: “The Only Method You Will Ever Need to Achieve Good Mental Health” and “The Only Banana Recipes You’ll Ever Need.

A dumb variant of this fad is a “the last … ever” construction.

Here’s an example: “The Last Apple Announcement Parody Video You’ll Ever Need to Watch.”

Really? Maybe the last one should have been the last one.

Journalist and headline writers often want you to feel something when you read the story — outrage, indignation, hope, inspiration. But emotion-share is hard to get these days. There is so much content these days calling for us to feel something that readers go numb after awhile. So now headline writers are essentially threatening readers to feel something … or else!

One Slate headline said: “You’re a Racist if You’re Not Offended by This White House Leak.”

Wow! I guess I’d better be offended then.

All these gimmicky headline trends are designed to break through the fog of information overload.

The truth is that it’s nearly impossible to get people to read whole articles and be influenced. Twitter, RSS readers and social streams have content zooming by so fast people barely have time to skim articles, let alone actually read them.

The solution isn’t to call for the closing of minds. Instead, more writers should give advice on how to choose the highest-quality content, and find the time to read it.

The headline could be: “The Last and Only Article You Will Ever Need to Read. Period. End of Story.”

For aNewDomain.net, I’m Mike Elgan.

Based everywhere, Mike Elgan is a veteran tech journalist and tech culture columnist. He writes most-visibly and frequently at Computerworld, Datamation, Cult of Mac, Houzz, PC World, InfoWorld, MacWorld, CIO Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle and The CMO Site. Now Mike is a senior commentator with us at aNewDomain.net. Follow Mike’s stream on Google+ and on Twitter @MikeElgan. The best way to reach him is via Google+. Email Mike here at aNewDomain at MikeE@aNewDomain.net.