The Four Kinds of NYT Headlines

While you can count on every HuffPost headline starting with WATCH or PHOTOS and every NY Post screamer being a pun your grandfather would have found hilarious, the Times has its own headline ruts that seem to have gotten deeper over the years. Here are the four most common kinds…

1) The Equivocators: These headlines present a hypothesis, but then get squirrely about going out on a limb and cover their bases. The two most common manifestations are “Something can be good, but also bad” and “Something is new, but also old.” Whatever form they take, these titles always remind me of the “Simpsons” Halloween episode in which an evil alien presidential candidate proclaims “Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.”

2) The Maureen Dowd: These are easy to write. Simply mush together a bunch of slangy, pop-culture references into a semi-sensical pseudo-sentence that vaguely reminds you of a commercial jingle or movie title from the latter half of the 20th century.

3) The Kind that Smugly Give You No Information Whatsoever: These are the oddest of the bunch: The ones that make searching for and finding the story virtually impossible. I know the Times would never deign to have an SEO strategy, but some people read things on the Internet—say via Twitter or RSS—neither of which offer enough context to explain these cryptic titles (which often seem like they were written by a drunk Garison Keillor). Proper nouns, while not allowed in Scrabble, are admissible in headlines.

4) The “Here’s a Question We’re Not Going to Answer”: These usually show up in the health section—an area where people go to look for answers but find few. While less sinister than the question marks used in chyrons to imply slanderous falsehoods, these are simply a tool to let the author write about a subject with no real answer. They are annoying, especially because you want the first word of the article to be “yes” or “no” but it’s always “maybe” or “I don’t know.”