Friday, 4 June 2010

Time to stamp out two-deck syndrome

This front page from the Times & Citizen in Bedordshire has been doing the rounds. I have seen many 'heady heady heady' mistakes but never on the splash. It is, I guess, a symptom of many things happening in the industry. But my beef is over the two-deck syndrome that blights newspapers. Since templating became the quick and easy way to produce pages, managers and even subs have forgotten that layout is a journalistic craft. It should be easy - read the story first, write the best headline you can and then build the page around it. When Concorde crashes into a hotel outside of Paris, you have to get 'Concorde' into the headline. "Fast jet' isn't quite the same. When a killer wheels his victims' bodies to the Regent's Canal is a shopping trolley, you have to get 'shopping trolley' up there. 
Look at the shape of the classic 'Zip me up before you go go.' Terrible, but who cares? If The Sun had adopted this grim two-deck policy we might have had:
Pop star
Two-deck syndrome leads to lazy words squeezed into inappropriate shapes, it makes news pages all look the same (like wallpaper) and, as the Times & Citizen demonstrates, it turns news pages into a product, with one shape to fit all stories. Layout should be about story telling, not about drawing boxes. Words sell newspapers - but the drip-drip effect of predictable splash headline words such as plans, attacks, boost, drugs, shame, vandals, crash etc have become
bland and invisible on the newsstands. Good headline writers need to use words that build immediate and vivid pictures in the minds of their potential readers. I have hundreds of examples of splash headlines that fail to do this because of two-deck syndrome - a large weekly paper that says ‘Plans promise jobs bonanza’, an evening that says ‘Youth crime blitz boost’. For all the extra sales they brought in, they might as well have just written 'headline headghgh.'


  1. If you're saying that the headline is the most important thing, then you're missing the point. Readers want strong content, not witty headlines.

  2. Wouldn't it be great if we all had time to sit crafting marvellous headlines and layouts? Meanwhile, back in the real world...

  3. Hey, howitis, keep complaining about staff numbers etc and putting out poor papers which people don't want to read or buy. I spent a decade with my nose to the screen, thinking how busy I was and believing I was doing a good job. I soon realised I had been peddling an awful lot of rubbish. Make time to think from a readers' perspective. That's all PS is asking here - and it makes perfect sense.

  4. I very much agree with Peter's points about two-deck headlines and the importance of front page layout but, in fairness to the Times & Citizen people (some or all of whom must be feeling very bruised by now), I think it worth noting that the Times & Citizen is a freesheet and so newstand presence is far less important than for paid-for titles.