21 aprile 2015 | 12:33

Perché facciamo titoli diversi per lo stesso articolo. Il New York Times rende conto ai suoi lettori

Il New York Times risponde alle critiche che riceve dai lettori sul modo in cui vengono fatti e cambiati i titoli, spiegando il processo di titolatura che riguarda lo stesso articolo ma diverse piattaforme ed edizioni, per esempio quella cartacea e quella online.

Dean Baquet

Dean Baquet, direttore del New York Times

“Alcuni anni fa abbiamo avuto un problema con il motore di ricerca di Google perché per quanto intelligenti fossero i nostri titolo non avevano le parole chiave e gli articoli non comparivano bene in vista” spiega LaForge che ha la funzione di monitorare i 130 copy editor che si occupano di fare i titoli . “Non è stato un aggiustamento facile” continua LaForge.

On the more general question of how headline writing is changing, Mr. LaForge said that Times editors became frustrated a few years ago when search engines — particularly Google — were not serving up Times journalism prominently because however clever the headlines may have been, a lot of them lacked keywords. The paper has made a strong effort to remedy that, and it’s working, he said. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment. “We weren’t ready to give up on the lyrical approach,” Mr. LaForge said. “But we’ve come to understand that it didn’t always serve the readers very well if a beautiful headline didn’t tell them clearly what the story was about.”

Ma la sua leggibilità dipende dalla possibilità di essere condiviso anche sui social network, in particolare su Facebook. E anche qui il titolo fa la differenza. L’obiettivo comunque, rassicurano al New York Times è mantenere lo stesso stile in tutte le piattaforme, talvolta accade.

And what matters more than a story’s “searchable” factor is how “shareable” it is on social media, particularly on Facebook. So headlines need to serve that purpose, too. A headline that works in print when paired with a photograph and placed in the context of a particular section of the paper may be a lot less successful when encountered on Facebook or read on a smartphone. So copy editors are writing different versions of headlines for different platforms, increasing their workload. If anything, the process will get only more complicated as platforms multiply. “The guiding principle is to match the appropriate style of headline to the platform — print, website, mobile, search engines or social media,” Mr. LaForge said.

These days, if headlines sometimes read less like haiku and more like jumbles of keywords, so that articles are easier to find, that’s just practical necessity. Sometimes, all the elements come together in a headline that accomplishes both searchability and wordplay. “We want readers,” Mr. LaForge said, “and we’re not going to apologize for that.” He’s right.

Hey, Google! Check Out This Column on Headlines (18 aprile 2015)

THE headline was perfect: “China’s Tensions with the Dalai Lama Spill Into the Afterlife.” Engaging, informative and clever, it sat atop a story about reincarnation and the succession plan for the Tibetan Buddhist leader, accompanied by a photo of the golden-robed monk.

Then there was this headline, which also did its job, but made my head spin: “Apple Unveils iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite at Developer Conference.” Cluttered and notably lacking in grace, it was designed to be found by those searching the Internet for specific terms.

If New York Times headlines are supposed to be lyrical — or even just elegantly spare — the Apple one would seem to flunk the test. But these days, the test has changed, and so have many aspects of headline writing at The Times.

It’s a subject I hear a great deal about from readers. Many have written to me concerned about specific words in headlines or about the ways headlines change in the course of the day. And internally, the best way to write headlines — and who should write them — is under discussion.

With that in mind, and armed with a half-dozen examples that I had heard about from readers, I sought out Patrick LaForge, who supervises the 130 copy editors who write most of the headlines. (These days, web producers, news editors, assigning editors and others write headlines, too; it’s all part of the sea change as The Times continues to emphasize publication on its digital platforms.)

I asked him about a headline on a story last month about the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Mo. The headline for the first print edition and for a time online read: “Demonstrator, 20, Is Arrested in the Shooting of 2 Officers in Ferguson.” Many readers wrote to me objecting to the use of the term “demonstrator,” calling it a charged description that was not supported in the article itself.

Mr. LaForge told me that the headline on this breaking story changed several times during the news cycle. At the point that this headline was written, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials were characterizing the gunman as a demonstrator, and that was emphasized in the lead paragraph. Lower in the story, protest organizers strongly disputed that claim.

“Given that the facts were in dispute, editors reviewing the article and headline between editions questioned the use of ‘demonstrator’ in the headline and decided it was a misstep,” Mr. LaForge said.

In later editions, the lead paragraph changed. So did the headline, to “Man, 20, Is Arrested in the Shooting of 2 Officers in Ferguson.” The headline itself did not prompt a correction, though it might well have, but a follow-up story allowed further doubt to be cast on law enforcement officials’ original contention that a demonstrator had fired the shots. In general, when headlines change during the news cycle, as they do regularly, there is no reason to explain the changes, and doing so would be onerous.

In another instance of a headline that changed several times, editors did decide that a corrective editors’ note was warranted. It was on a “Disruptions” column by Nick Bilton, which gave unwarranted credence to the idea that digital devices, such as cellphones and the new Apple Watch, may cause cancer. The original headline, written by the copy desk, read “New Wearable Gadgets, New Health Concerns”; but a web producer, apparently in an effort to make the headline more buzzworthy, changed it to read “Could Wearable Computers Be as Harmful as Cigarettes?”

Mr. LaForge said that wasn’t the ideal process — the copy desk should have been asked to change it — and that the new headline added to the problems of that column. “In the heat of the moment, bad things can happen,” he said. The expert skills of experienced copy editors can be an important defense against that.

On the more general question of how headline writing is changing, Mr. LaForge said that Times editors became frustrated a few years ago when search engines — particularly Google — were not serving up Times journalism prominently because however clever the headlines may have been, a lot of them lacked keywords. The paper has made a strong effort to remedy that, and it’s working, he said.

It hasn’t been an easy adjustment. “We weren’t ready to give up on the lyrical approach,” Mr. LaForge said. “But we’ve come to understand that it didn’t always serve the readers very well if a beautiful headline didn’t tell them clearly what the story was about.”

And what matters more than a story’s “searchable” factor is how “shareable” it is on social media, particularly on Facebook. So headlines need to serve that purpose, too. A headline that works in print when paired with a photograph and placed in the context of a particular section of the paper may be a lot less successful when encountered on Facebook or read on a smartphone. So copy editors are writing different versions of headlines for different platforms, increasing their workload.

If anything, the process will get only more complicated as platforms multiply. “The guiding principle is to match the appropriate style of headline to the platform — print, website, mobile, search engines or social media,” Mr. LaForge said.

The new-style headlines are a far cry from stereotypical Times headlines, which have been mocked for the prepositional phrases that often introduce them, like this one from last Monday’s paper, “After 8 Shots, a Quiet Officer Now Scorned.” Their frequency years ago once led to a Twitter meme in which book titles were rewritten in that style. (Among them: “Of Oz, the Wizard.”)

These days, if headlines sometimes read less like haiku and more like jumbles of keywords, so that articles are easier to find, that’s just practical necessity.

“We want readers,” Mr. LaForge said, “and we’re not going to apologize for that.” He’s right.

Sometimes, all the elements come together in a headline that accomplishes both searchability and wordplay, as on a Colorado-based story about restaurants offering dishes cooked with marijuana: “Pot Pie, Redefined? Chefs Start to Experiment with Cannabis.” In my Google search results for “restaurants and marijuana,” it showed up high (which seemed appropriate). And it made me smile, too.