Gawker has begun the long-awaited process of rolling out its redesign. Today the design popped up on i09, their future blog. Much has been written about the redesign: how it’s app-inspired, how it’s Twitter inspired, how it radicalizes the business of web publishing, how it’s a blog killer. What I have yet to read about—and what I did not fully realize until I visited i09 today—is the heavy burden it places on headlines.
Aside from the four featured stories on the homepage, the new Gawker design almost exclusively relies on headlines to sell its content. Bold? Yes. But what’s important to note is that this is nothing new. Headlines on websites—particularly those found on news websites with content heavy homepages—carry a very heavy load. For these types of sites, the difference between 10,000 pageviews can rest entirely on the quality of the headline and how well it sells a story.
Newspaper publishers are no strangers to this type of pressure. Newsstand sales, particularly for tabloid newspapers, hinge on front cover headlines. Lucky for them, they really only have to nail one headline—three at the most—to get your money. (See Capital New York’s daily The Front column by Tom McGeveran to see who does it best.) The interior page headlines, while important for tone and customer loyalty, are not nearly as vital to success on a daily basis as the headline on the wood. That’s why writing that headline is almost always left to the Editor-in-Chief or Managing Editor.
What if every headline carried that kind of weight? This is the case online. Each headline represents a potential click, a potential pageview that will ultimately contribute to your bottom line.
What’s remarkable is that many newspapers still foolishly think they can simply repurpose their print headlines online. The art of headline writing is shaped entirely by context: What art is adjacent? How much space is available for the headline? Who is going to read the headline? Is there a dek and/or bullet points? All of these questions have very specific answers which vary wildly from print to Web—not to mention the fact that the Web headline has the added pressure of search engine optimization (fodder for another post).
So where does this leave Gawker? Right smack in the middle of a headline bacchanal. Never have a string of words been so important to the act of publishing. Overwhelmed with information, consumers rely on headlines to find content quickly and concisely. Luckily, we are a generation of headline writers. (What are Tweets, if not headlines?) The new Gawker has absorbed this fact into its DNA. The only question remains is if Nick Denton and company have mastered the art of headline writing.