How headlines change the way we think about importance of news

Thursday August 08 2019

Kenyans glimpse at newspaper headlines in Nairobi on August 10, 2017. Editors emphasise the importance of a story by giving it a big (splash) headline. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Erick Wekesa thinks the Nation did a poor job of reporting the death of Kibra MP Ken Okoth, who died of cancer on July 26 at the age of 41.

The newspaper did not accord him a splash headline like it did with Bob Collymore and Joyce Laboso, who also died of cancer in the same month.

A splash headline is a front-page lead story. Editors emphasise the importance of a story by giving it a big (splash) headline.

This editorial and typographical technique is intended to ensure the chances of a reader accessing the story and reading it.

The length and larger font size of the splash headline increases visual impact and can draw out a much stronger emotional connection with the reader.

Front-page splash headlines say it loud. The message becomes louder, more prominent and convincing. It affects what readers see, read, and remember. It reframes the news.



Mr Wekesa bases his complaint on what he says was the high regard people had of Okoth. “Readers regarded him as a super MP. Nobody can dispute Ken’s big heart. He touched and transformed lives. He was a sober MP — one of the panelists you could pay attention to when he showed up on NTV, among other TV stations.”

“I was disappointed that with Ken’s rich legacy, the Nation did not give him a major headline when he died. Instead, the July 27, Saturday Nation’s splash headline was about the drug-trafficking Akasha brothers (“We killed, bribed and dealt with drugs”).

Okoth’s death was relegated to a above-the-masthead smaller headline (“Ken Okoth loses battle with cancer”). “I felt like the editor didn’t do her homework well,” Mr Wekesa says.

“The Kibra MP lived a live worth emulating. Giving him good coverage would have endeared his rich legacy (sic) and bequeathed him to the next generation. Surely, he didn’t deserve a half-page story, half-face portrait and a negative headline.”


In contrast, he says, Bob Collymore's headline on July 1 read: “Death of a titan,” while that of Joyce Laboso on July 30 read “Smiling with angels” — all catchy, positive headlines.

“We’ve to be deliberate, especially at the time of mourning to minister [to] hope. Ken was the bravest warrior of cancer. He ministered [to] hope. But after he departed, the Nation headline reduced him to a cancer victim and nothing more. Remember the headline of the deceased is a mourners' take-home message."

Mr Wekesa is neither right nor wrong about Saturday Nation’s performance. It was a choice between two competing news stories, the other being an exposé of the Akasha brothers’ reign of terror as told to a US court. Choosing a splash headline is not an exact science.

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