Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Mastodon Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube

Headline Writing With an NYT Guru

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When retired New York Post editor Vincent Musetto died this month, the Internet fondly revisited his famous 1983 headline on a story about a grisly New York City crime: HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR. The New York Times obituary for Musetto even evoked his turn of phrase with its headline: “Vincent Musetto, 74, Dies; Wrote ‘Headless’ Headline of Ageless Fame.”

The writer of that headline, Kyle Massey -- often called The Times’ reigning headline guru -- joins ProPublica Assistant Managing Editor Eric Umansky in this week’s podcast on what makes a good headline -- in The Times and elsewhere.

As assistant news editor, Massey focuses on the articles destined for the paper’s front page and, in particular, headlines. He even writes a weekly in-house critique of headlines for the staff.

Oh, and The Times headline on the 1983 killing? “Owner of a Bar Shot to Death; Suspect Is Held.”

Highlights from this episode:

  • The ways online news has changed headline writing. (11:57)
  • How headlines are written and approved at The Times. “The essence is the key, and the tone is the key.” Massey says, noting the “restrained tone,” that is The Times’ hallmark. “It’s not ‘bloodbath,’ and ‘thugs,’ ” he says. (2:16)
  • The Times’ well-documented “fondness, or maybe even overuse” of headlines beginning with a prepositional phrase, which spawned the #nytbooks hashtag on Twitter in 2012. (4:50)
  • Massey’s background, from his start as a sportswriter at the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Arkansas. (6:58)
  • Tips for writing clear, engaging headlines: “You have to write the headline on the story that’s there,” Massey says. “You can’t, sort of, write the headline on the story you wish were there.” (15:47)

Hear their conversation on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher, and subscribe to ProPublica’s podcasts to hear conversations like these each week.

Follow ProPublica

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page