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What is in a headline? Make it catchy but sensible and ethical

By Eric Ndung’u

A clear, concise and correct (3Cs) headline does the job. According to BBC article, Teacher Resources: Activity – Writing headlines (27 September 2012), a headline should ideally tell you enough to attract your attention but leave you wanting more, creating a knowledge vacuum. For example, ‘Nairobi BRT lane is for electric buses only, says PS Hinga’ (Nation Wednesday, June 9, 2021). At a single glance, this article’s headline does tell and sell about electric based-BRT system in Kenya, at the same time the reader surely develops interest in what follows the headline.

On the bright side, some of the catchy headlines do inform, educate and entertain. Known for its brilliance in the arena, NTV has created some of the best catchy headlines over the past two years, a trend other stations are adopting:

Anne-believably lucky – court dismissing Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru’s petition challenging impeachment.

“Menstrual Hygiene matters. Period.

Uhuru wa kukopa

“Uhuru akutana na pombe

“Muliquor mwizi – thugs caught on CCTV robbing a wines and spirits outlet.

However, in the quest for catchy headlines, journalists have foregone the ideals to incorporate sensational wordplays, extreme alliterations, speculations and bad grammar in their reporting.

Asst. Chief caught mining minor” (K24 TV 0723hrs, June 10, 2021).

This story was about Sasur sub-location administrator James Kabunjey who allegedly defiled a minor. Despite that the headline stands to be clear, concise but not entirely correct, the headline reads like a joke at first glance rather than a serious defilement case. It contributes to violation of Clause 3 (1) of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism, which calls for presenting news with integrity and respecting the dignity and intelligence of the audience as well as the subject of the news.

The minor is a human being, who has dignity and hence, should not be viewed as an object as the headline portrays. This headline also does not take into account the sensitivity of the matter, defilement being a matter of grief and shock, and the possible damage it might cause to the minor and the family, breaching of clause 14 (1).

With a thin line between catchy and controversial headlines, media houses should carefully tell and sell news while abiding by set standards. Use of controversial wordplays and alliterations, sensational language and speculative headlines infringe on the dignity of the viewers as well as the subjects of the news.

The writer is a media analyst at MCK

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