The most difficult, yet rewarding task involved in being a copy editor is surprisingly not copy editing. We’re also responsible for writing headlines for the print edition of the Daily Cal, and it frequently proves to be a daunting and time-consuming task, with several criteria you have to mentally juggle while crafting the perfect title.
First of all and most importantly, the title has to accurate convey the important details of a story or picture. We have to make sure the focus is accurate and the facts aren’t being misrepresented, but we have limited space to do this! Which brings us to the second critical factor in coming up with headlines — there are specific size dimensions that need to be filled. Titles must be long enough to fit their spot in the paper without stretching out the font size, and they also have to be short enough that the words remain readable.
Occasionally, the space available is laid out in such a way that we can only put one word per line, and the word needs an exact amount of characters to fit the sizing criteria. A lot of time is spent searching through thesaurus.com for synonyms of a word that contain the exact amount of letters needed.
The extra component to keep in mind, although not quite as essential as the first two, is coming up with something catchy and attention-grabbing. In writing headlines for the news department, there is a very fine line between a perfect amount of punniness, and being too spicy for front-page news — we generally leave the real headline shenanigans to the Clog.
Sometimes a headline can be jazzed up simply by including a nice punchy word, but we also frequently resort to puns. Some are emotionally impactful, such as “DACA becomes lost dream.” Some are a bit more eye-roll inducing, such as my own front page headline declaring that a sushi place “rolled out of town” when they closed down. Many are so heinously punny that they do not even make it out of the copy desk and into print — one of the frustrations of the job. One of the most lamented unused headlines claimed that a pizza place was “tossed to the curb because dough failed to rise” referring to the shutdown of a pizza place in financial straits.
The art of the pun is a delicate one and frequently when you come up with something good, it’s something that comes to you seemingly out of the blue. Once, my boyfriend (who does not work for the Daily Cal) visited the office for a few minutes, came up with a front page headline — “Pride festival roars in the Bay” for San Francisco’s Pride Parade — and it ended up getting published.
I’ve been coming into the office and writing headlines for four hours a week for the last five months and it’s still an infrequent occurrence that a headline of mine gets published without any changes made.
Despite being a linguistics major, I don’t believe that there is an exact science to coming up with impeccable titles or wordplay. There are pun generators online now, but they seem at best somewhat adequate and at worst horribly confused about the way in which humor or the English language operates.
The puns that are forced always wind up being the most cringe-inducing in my experience. So until science one day comes far enough to do the impossible and engineer perfect puns for every headline, I will continue to wait for those moments when divine inspiration hits.