Gene Weingarten’s Washington Post column mourning the demise of old-school headline writing and mocking the machinations of search-engine optimization gets a lot right, starting with the hilarious, SEO-spoofing headline (“Gene Weingarten column mentions Lady Gaga”). But I think it also gets some things wrong.
Weingarten’s right, of course, that headlines written for the Web are frequently less interesting than those that go into the paper. They’re also much easier to find, and in an online world utterly dominated by search engines, if you can’t be found, you might as well not exist. Sad but true.
But where is the rule that forbids clever wordplay from hanging out with easily searchable key words?
Weingarten cites a Post headline about Conan O’Brien that read “Better never than late” in print but became “Conan O’Brien won’t give up ‘Tonight Show’ time slot to make room for Jay Leno” on the Web.
Obviously, that’s SEO overkill. But perhaps something like this might have worked: “Better never than late: Conan O’Brien won’t drop ‘Tonight Show’ slot for Jay Leno.” Or this: “Better never than late: Conan won’t drop ‘Tonight Show’ slot for Leno.” (Googlers would probably enter “Conan” and “Leno” instead of their full names.)
I understand Weingarten’s angst about the industry, and I appreciate the humor he uses to express it. Much like him, I often yearn for that simpler time when all we had to do was “get the paper out.” But those days are vanishing and will never return, and I’d rather spend my energy trying to figure out how to merge the craft of journalism’s past with the dynamism of its future.