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A good headline can easily draw readers to a page

Friday August 16 2019

Local newspapers on the streets in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE

Local newspapers on the streets in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A prominent headline on page one of the Nation of August 13 ran as follows: “Race to replace Okoth in Kibra on”. The page designers were so proud of those words that they ordered them printed in reverse form — in the form, namely, of white letters on a black background.

In a newspaper’s newsroom language, to “reverse” a headline is to produce it in white letters against a background of black or some other dark colour.


But, even if anybody constrained me to use in my headline the same words as above, I might, nevertheless, shuffle them somewhat. I might, for instance, write: “Race is on to replace Okoth in Kibra”.

In the Nation’s case here, however, the sentence that included the verb to “race … on” was divided into two parts. The relevant word groups were separated from each other by five other words. This now seemed to be what had inspired the page’s designer into ordering the reversal of his or her headline.

But, as most artists affirm, the colours yellow and blue just do not appear to caress each other. Yellow goes well with green, and blue with red.


But, in a newspaper, the only reason that you often order a headline reversed (white on black) is that you are proud either of the way it captures the content of the story or of its language.

It is thus that you draw the potential readers’ attention to the story. In other words, a headline’s wording might contribute delightfully to the page’s overall performance.

Yet the choice of words is usually merely personal to you, the sub-editor. In our example, that appeared to be what had led the sub-editor to reverse the tone of his/her sub-headline.

As we recall, to “reverse” a newspaper headline or text is to produce it in white letters against a much darker colour background.


That would, I think, have been the most probable reason that our page’s designer had drawn a thick red line horizontally between the paper’s masthead and the “splash” headline on that particular day.

Despite these and certain other newsroom problems — that I won’t bother you with — the page proved positive. For the mere purpose of an attempt is sometimes more telling than whether the execution of it has succeeded. Mr Fanuel Dollimore, the orally playful Englishman who taught me physics and chemistry at Alliance High School, never tired of affirming to us that experimentation in the laboratory is the surest way to affirm certain claims made in chemistry and physics.

Knowledge of science and mastery of technology are the human instruments of the near future.

Even today, science and technology are the definitions of the development of so-called developed countries. That is among the reasons that I remain a firm supporter of science teaching in Kenya’s schools.

In a seriously underdeveloped country such as ours, I suggest, the teaching of science should begin all the way down from the first class of primary school, being significantly intensified at every stage upwards.


Indeed, I suggest that, in our country, serious science teaching should begin at the primary school level.

The only reason that I myself did not study science after high school was that, in high school, my performance in languages (especially English) had always been my best.

That was why I continued with English at the tertiary level and it remains the most important tool in my whole professional career.

Philip Ochieng is a veteran journalist.