English Language; Drama & Speech; Social Etiquette. Est. 1986, Hong Kong

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09 August 2015

Headlines as Framer of News Stories

Newspaper headlines have an important role in directing readers’ attention to the story. So we see that headlines function as a kind of “summary” of the story. Often they focus on just one aspect of the story. In other words they “frame” the story and perhaps make us see the story in a certain way.

The structure is often described as “telegraphic” (meaning “concise” or “clipped”). For reasons of space, headlines tend not to have a time reference as they do not use finite verbs (i.e. verbs in the past, present or future tenses), auxiliary verbs or adverbs. However, the verb may be used as a noun. The main characteristics of “headlines” are;

  • the omission of words;
  • the use of short words;
  • the use of loaded words ( words with strong connotations);
  • the use of nominalization (non-nouns made into nouns);
  • the use of noun phrases;
  • the use of gimmicks (puns, wordplay ,metaphor, alliteration, rhyme)

The words omitted are usually function words, that is, grammatical words that do not carry intrinsic meaning: determiners (some, this, that, the, a, an, etc.), pronouns (relative pronouns), auxiliaries (be, have, do). Titles (Mrs., Sir, Lord) and punctuation may be also omitted.

For example,, “Obama likely to name 2nd nominee next week”. The full sentence would read, “President Obama is likely to name the 2nd nominee next week.”

Many useful activities can be done by looking at newspaper headlines:

(1) Write out a number of headlines on a piece of paper; then, make them into full sentences.

(2) Cut out a number of newspaper headlines and try to work out the “angle” or “frame” of the story by analyzing the headline.

(3) Get a newspaper, cut out the stories without their headlines and then make up a headline to fit the story. Usually it is the editor, not the journalist, who makes up the headlines for stories.

A fun game can also be made called “crazy headlines” – make cards with a number of nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions (make the nouns and verbs more numerous). Each participant in the game gets a number of cards (e.g., seven) and then has to make up a headline with the words they picked. The cards they use to make a headline are replaced with other cards from the pack. Players can give up their turn if they cannot make a headline; rules about replacing cards can be made up by the players themselves.

Happy headlining!