Extolling the art of blurbs and teasers online

Why do we so often overlook the art of writing witty, compelling headlines and blurbs online?

Is it the breakneck pace of producing Web news? Is it the endless distractions of emerging technology? Does it really just come down to us not caring enough any more?

I’m reminded of Lucas Grindley’s post way back in November in which he highlighted the merits of so-called “Web monkey” work — the endless cutlines, blurbs and copy/pasting into a content management system. Howard Owens painted a bleak future for those limited to these tasks. Mindy McAdams called much of it robot work. And I sternly warned against the danger of students “becoming the Cutline Master.”

While I still advocate journalism students becoming as technically skilled as possible, we should all take greater care not to belittle the everyday editing that goes on. It is crucial yet thankless work. News sites don’t win Digital Edge or Online News Association awards writing engaging little bits like these.

But why shouldn’t this type of editing –when it is exemplary and consistent– be rewarded as well?

Nearly every time I drop by, I’m impressed and amused at the witty teaser text that compels me to click on Slate’s Web site. Here’s a sampling of today’s teasers:

Gonzales Deathwatch: Bet He’s Gone by Friday

Reading the World’s First Self-Help Book

Delay’s Hillary Smear

Full-Mental Nudity: The arrival of mind-reading machines

Slate is one of the exceptions. Granted, they have more exotic material than the average newspaper’s municipal stories and shootings. But are we really putting forth the effort? When Fark and Digg users are obviously spending time scrutinizing their headlines, why are we so often not?

While we relentlessly pursue the latest gadgets, the highest Google ranking, the newest software and the most efficient ways to produce — we cannot forgot to value the craft of placing sharp writing in those tiny boxes and headlines. We so often call them “users,” that we tend to forget that they are “readers” too.

To all the Cutline Masters, Web Monkeys and Content Management System Robots, I grant you a long-overdue salute.

About Danny Sanchez

Danny Sanchez is the Audience Development Manager at Tribune's Sun-Sentinel.com and OrlandoSentinel.com. Danny has been with Tribune since 2005 in a variety of editorial, digital and product development roles in Hartford, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. He has also previously worked in the newsrooms of the Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald.
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