A Study In Headlines
by Dan Walsh
7 Days of the San Francisco Examiner.
I’m currently reading The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. It’s been a trip so far. There were so many famous and powerful Americans alive at the turn of the 20th century: Hearst, Pulitzer, Teddy Roosevelt, Rockefeller. These are men about whom I’ve previously read, so it’s eye opening to see their tales weave together from different perspectives. It’s also wild to read this book and live in San Francisco, where much of Hearst’s early life took place. He made an indelible mark on this city, and it’s fun to wander around to his old haunts. Given my recent increase in public facing writing, it’s been particularly interesting to read about Hearst’s ownership of the San Francisco Examiner, and then to see the very same paper still on the newsstands. I’ve decided to make a study of the paper’s front page. The following is an assessment of 7 days of the San Francisco Examiner.
December 12th, 2013
Bottled water ban pitched for city land
Supervisor David Chiu set to propose legislation that would phase in restrictions at facilities, events
Tech rant highlights a PR problem
CEO’s post about homeless creates backlash
SFFD pushes back on sidewalk projects
A family affair
Photo exhibit shows work from father, daughter
Urban: Harbaugh’s bully act getting old
New details emerge in federal hearing
December 16th, 2013
Market St. free Wi-Fi debuts today
Google’s service in open spaces expected in mid-2014
Niners on a roll
Defense stuffs Bucs for fourth straight win
Neighbors unfazed by Journey nuptials
Lee, tech leaders to talk about future
Her own style
Malaysian singer combines passions
December 17th, 2013
Homeless youths face loss of vital lifeline in Haight
Increased rent may force nonprofit to close its doors on Christmas Day, turn into mobile operation
FB Miller’s injury may end his season
Clowns amaze and delight in ‘Mistletoe’
S.F. to weigh law on tenant harassment
Driver in crash will face manslaughter
December 18th, 2013
Dirty air is record for region
Weather system has locked pollution into the skies over the Bay Area for 11 straight days
A look at Candlestick before it fades away
Iguodala returns as Warriors top Pelicans
Obama talks spying, NSA with tech CEO’s
Forced to move
Tenants losing homes without rent control
Kung Pao Kosher continues tradition
December 19th, 2013
Mayor: Build housing faster
Lee’s executive directive will prioritize low-income units
Dwight Clark recalls Niners at the Stick
Living Nativity in Redwood City a thrill
In high demand
Busy Hidalgo rocks outside of Los Lobos
Return to court
Warriors happy to have Iguodala back
December 20th, 2013
Call for phone kill switch
State Sen. Mark Leno, District Attorney George Gascón propose legislation in move to curb theft of devices
Quest for history
Sacred Heart Prep to play for state title
415 is old school
New 628 area code coming to S.F., Marin
Yule icon yanked
Rebel Christmas tree on Haight removed
Rush on retail
Short holiday season swamps local shops
December 23rd, 2013
Solutions for middle-income housing sought
The debate about incentivizing units in new developments or collecting more fees rages during housing crunch
A special final night at Stick?
Niners can clinch playoff spot in possible last game in stadium
Lots of questions
Can healthy SF work with Obamacare?
Marcus Books rushes to secure funding
Too many mistakes haunt Raiders in loss
Leaving the pack
Brit comedian Oliver sets his own course
Observations After 7 Days
The first thing I notice is the giant headline for the main story. This is something Hearst pioneered, and it’s interesting to see that it’s still around. It definitely grabs my attention. Even if I’m not interested in the story, the headline is so big I can’t help but read it. A headline that large also suggests that the Examiner believes it is the most important story of them all – and they’re not afraid to tell you. Most newspapers choose one story to prominently display on their front page, but this story is only a little bigger than the others. It’s like other newspapers say “here’s the big one… and just in case you don’t like it, here’s some other stuff you’re probably interested in.” Other newspapers play it safe. The Examiner throws a hail mary everyday.
Speaking of football, I was surprised how much sports coverage there was on the front page. Of the 38 total stories, 10 of them were about local sports. This is compared to only 7 articles about the current tech/gentrification/eviction battle that is currently raging in San Francisco. There were only (maybe) three articles about non-local issues.
Another Hearst legacy is the championing of the “little guy”. Despite Hearst’s vast wealth he was an opponent of big business and advocate for the working man. Regarding the eviction stories, The Examiner is overwhelmingly in favor of tenants rights. While they don’t go so far as to bash landlords or the causes of gentrification, their word choices indicate solidarity with low and middle income classes: rant, eviction crisis, vital lifeline, forced to move. These words and their usage are all emotionally charged to create sympathy with tenants, homeless, and the non tech-elite.
These emotional words were utilized well in all headlines, not only those regarding the housing crunch. Even the sports articles used evocative terms: street fights, hot-head, rant, backlash, on a roll, hype, power lunch, crisis, dirty air, deep discussion, kill switch, quest for victory, yanked, rush, rages, crunch. These are all visual, emotional, and evocative. Specific word choices help tell the story with fewer words – important for headlines.
Finally, I was surprised by the lack of capitalization and punctuation. None of the headlines or sub headlines had ending punctuation, and only proper terms and the first word in a headline were capitalized. This flies in the face of online marketing best practices, of which I’m most familiar I’m not sure what to make of this observation. Maybe less punctuation and fewer capital letters helps the page feel less crowded?
All things considered, this was an interesting exercise for me. The biggest lesson is that I should use more evocative words while maintaining the integrity of my topics. I will also consider “front-page” layouts of websites more thoroughly. There is definitely power in a giant headline.