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Thus proclaimed the headlines on 20th May, 1536 in the Tower News following the beheading the day before at the Tower of London of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England and second wife of King Henry VIII.

Okay, this blog is not about the beheading of Anne Boleyn. It’s about the power of headlines to attract attention, or otherwise, and is prompted by the BBC’s change of website appearance. In common with many other websites, notably alternative news media and most banks, the BBC has simplified its home page appearance so as to fit the content more comfortably on the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets. This simplification has resulted in a reduction of text below a headline and thus the headline writers are more challenged to create a succinct summary of the topic under discussion. The Queen, topless! caught your attention even if the content wasn’t what you were expecting.

Today marks the departure from the old-style BBC news website in which each headlined news item carried a few words of introduction to a newer starker headline-only style. Here are a few from today’s website:

Hospital mental health absences rises

Radio 1 chart show moving to Friday

Cuts ‘hitting poor children hardest’

UKIP’s Atkinson expelled from party

Funeral for footballer Dave Mackay

Methadone programme ‘a black hole’

Duke’s birthday song at business summit

Each one of these headlines is designed to catch my attention but instead turned me off. Hospital mental health absences makes no sense to me and provokes no further interest. I have zero interest in the Radio 1 chart show. I’ve never seen a definition of poor children. I’ve no idea who Atkinson is nor am I remotely interested in a footballer called Mackay, dead or alive. I don’t understand how a programme can be a black hole, figuratively or even literally, and any mention of any member of the Royal Family creates instant boredom and apathy.

In the past, when the headline was followed by a brief introduction, I might have been motivated to pursue one or more of these headlines – maybe the UKIP expulsion for example – but now I am reduced to making a should-I-shouldn’t-I? decision based on just five or six words. Let’s hope the BBC headline writers raise their wordplay game in the future. They will need to if they are to capture and keep our attention.


Footnote posted 28 March, 2015.

I’ve just sent the following e-mail to the editor of the Daily Mail.

Headlines spotted in the online Daily Mail, 28 March 2015, between 07:00 and 07:30. Some contain grammatical errors. Some make no sense. Some are ambiguous.

Outrage as police say they can do nothing against man is caught urinating on monuments and making a Nazi salute at Czech concentration camp

Victory for vigilantes: Two child sex perverts convicted over separate stings set up online paedophile hunters

A suburban nightmare: They just wanted the builder to create a little extra space – and followed all the rules. What happened next will child your blood…

‘Boomerang’ pensioners forced back to work: One in eight workers aged 65 to 74 were not employed a decade earlier

EEGSTRA LARGE! Easter eggs are getting HUGE – but dies the taste match the size?

Pandas get lonely too: Study finds elusive bears more sociable that thought

Did monkey business shape society? Crested black macaque reveal how human social structures evolved

White supremacist who ‘screamed Heil Hitler! as he opened fire killing three at Kansas Jewish community center’ asks for speedy murder trial because ‘he is dying’

Lightning jets that can’t fly through lightning: Fears new £100m RAF fighter’s fuel tanks could exploded if struck by a bolt

Pictured: Horrifying injuries of father-of-three who was savaged by neighbour’s Staffordshire bull terriers when he went round to complain about their loud music


I received a MailOnline reply:

I have passed your comments on to our editor for his review. It may be helpful for you to know that much of our content is produced under tight deadlines and this can, at times, leave room for human error.

Nevertheless, I take on board what you say and we always strive to improve the product.

To which I replied:

I understand about deadlines and the possibility of human error and I observed that some of the headline errors were corrected as the day progressed but I was surprised at the number and variety of solecisms that escaped the copy editor’s scan.

‘Nuff said.