Making headlines is art of summarising. A good title can consist five to six words but a good headline can only have two or three. Headlines are usually finalised the latest in the editorial office of the Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat published by Sanoma, the newspaper division of the SanomaWSOY Group. Although it does not mean that headlines are made in the last minute.
– Pratctically, one has to think the whole day what would be the best selling headlines and cover topics of the next day, says one of Managing Editors in Ilta-Sanomat, Erik Rissanen. Rissanen has 20 years experience of making headlines. The managing editor in headline shift has a strong influence in compiling the tabloid, and headlines can be seen as a signature of the newspaper.
– Nowadays, the job requires more both physically and mentally, but the result is certainly better. The days get longer, but luckily we have five managing editors taking turns, Rissanen describes. Each managing editor has his/her own style, but still each headline can be recognised as Ilta-Sanomat's one.
Rissanen has worked for Ilta-Sanomat 30 years, 20 of which as Managing Editor. He estimates, that during those years he has written some two thousand headlines.
The work has changed recently. Internet as well as higher standard of living gives people more experiences and at the same time, the target groups are becoming smaller and smaller. It makes it more difficult to know what topics are interesting to the audience.
– An interesting piece of news has to be more significant. Before internet, smaller news was interesting also in the newspaper, but now those can be read immediately on internet or seen on television, Rissanen says.
Touching but not expelling
There is rarely one piece of news that makes the headline by itself. Usually, the headlines bring forward two to three topics that are considered most interesting. Simultaneously, topics that are known to be unfamiliar to readers are left out.
Sports are, for example, difficult subject for the headline maker, since they divide audience completely. Even though violence related headlines have raised strong debate in Finland during recent years, they do not beat the celebrities in number of headlines published nor in sales. Traditional accident topics are not good sellers but still – the bigger and geographically closer the catastrophe is, the better it sells.
According to the master thesis made by Pasi Kivioja few years ago, the best selling headline is the one telling about the death of celebrity in Finland or abroad. From Finnish society events the President's reception on Independence Day is absolutely the most attractive.
– People are interested in divergent, surprising, and uncommon events – no matter what the surveys say, Rissanen concludes.
– It is also not true that politics do not sell. But not all political news is interesting; a politician has to be well known and the subject has to be close to the readers. The rules of a good story have not changed.
Text and picture: Samuli Pulkkinen
The text has been summarised from article originally published in personnel magazine 3/2006 of Sanoma Corporation.