Guido Stempel | Ohio University
I used to begin headline writing by having students write heads from leads without editing the copy.
Adapting what I used to do to online instruction, I would pit the students against the headline writers at a nearby newspaper. I would put the leads in the system along with instructions as to what head to write, making it the same count and format as the one in the paper, but the student would not know what that head was.
When the student finishes the head, he or she would send it to the central computer. I would put the head from the newspaper in that computer, and when everybody was done with that head, we would have the student heads plus the newspaper head in the computer. We would do that with four or five heads.
Then we would have the students call up each set of heads and pick the three best heads. What you probably will find is that at least some of the heads from the newspaper do not finish in the first three. If you think this is because of the ignorance of the students, have some faculty members pick the three best heads.
The student thus learns that he or she can write heads as good as those in the newspaper. One reason is that the student will take more time than a lot of editors take to write heads. For the student whose head finishes in the first three, this is a very positive experience.
The exercise also helps emphasize the point that is presumably made other times, that heads are very important because for some stories that is all a given reader will read.