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January 10, 2009

Bucking tradition with headlines on Patriot coverage

A headline really isn't even part of a news story. But, as the briefest of summaries, it sure is the statement that attracts readers' attention and tells them what the story they're about to read is all about.

So in that vein, headlines can be among the most important items on a news page, particularly Page 1. Let's face it, it's the headlines that readers look to in deciding which stories they want to read first — or, in some cases, whether they may find a story interesting at all. So a lot of care goes into them, particularly for the front-page stories you see every day in the Times.

Traditional headlines simply tell the reader what's in the story below. This week, those included Thursday's "$2,000 fee on table for full-day kindergarten" from a story about Manchester Essex schools; Monday's "Mayor looks to open door to hire chiefs from outside," on a Gloucester story on a proposal by Mayor Carolyn Kirk; and Wednesday's chilling-but-to-the-point "Killer dermatologist found dead in cell," on our first story about the prison death of Dr. Richard Sharpe.

Some headlines are tricky. You see, once our editors decide upon which stories are being presented where, there are limits to the number of words or even letters than can fit in the allotted space, depending on the size and font of the type. That's partly why Tuesday's story about a funding deficit for the New Year's Rockport Eve program — blamed in large part on the weather - read "Snowstorm puts fete in the red." Good headline writers — like our own Andrea Holbrook, Jeff Pope and Scott Pytlik — are great at using short words to convey bigger thoughts, and Andrea's "fete in the red" precisely conveyed the issue at hand about as briefly as you could get.

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