Headlines, content, audience — 3 things that must align

People generally like to read things that journalists don’t care for. And journalists tend to write things they think are must-reads, and to which the public responds — occasionally.

Sometimes, the “important” stories truly are, but are never read. And often, the dumbest stories or the least journalistic are wildly popular. All of these stories, too, are affected by the headlines that trumpet them. But there’s quite a lot of gray in that black-and-white world, and newspapers to the newest tweeters face the same dual challenge: How do I align what I like with what my audience wants; and, is my content delivering on my promises?

One answer, of course, is to go small — find a niche. But that just narrows the problem, not make it go away. Within a niche, too, comes the temptation to make too much of something that falls within your area and downplay important or appealing things that are outside your area. The brassy headline with empty content, and the too-dense post with impenetrable length and a bland headline — both are a side of the same coin.

What to do? Well, here’s an admittedly silly example that I think offers one solution while echoing Jason Seiden’s “fail spectacularly” notion.

It has an over-the-top headline that’s fun and inviting, but about a trivial matter. So what do you do within the story? Well, you dare to fail, going over the top (accurately) in description and detail, trying to replicate the funny and shock of the headline in every paragraph. See a snapshot below, and then check out the full story.

Now, were journalistic resources wasted here? Possibly. Would it be better if the vigor and gusto of the writing and reporting were replicated on more important matters? Sure.

But that’s not the point. The point is that the headline attracted an audience (still on the website’s top 5 most-read stories when I encountered it, 3 days later), and the story delivered on the headline’s promise — much to my pleasant surprise. The only question: Is this the sort of content that gets readers to return to this website? That remains to be seen.

How can writers and editors craft headlines, backed by desired and quality content, that consistently lure an audience and then give them the goods? Find that answer, and you may find a career lifeline.