The Nigerian Press and Creative Headline Writing

by Uche Nworah

A piece written by Kunle Somorin of Abuja –based Leadership newspaper on the 30th of October 2007 titled Beyond the Singh Song warmed my heart, and made me to believe that there is yet hope for creative journalism practice in Nigeria (not the type practiced by Lawrence Akapa of the Top news fame).

I believe that wherever there is a will; there is also a way to better creatively written article headers and headlines by Nigerian newspaper and magazine editors and their copy editors.

Mr Somorin played on words in coming out with what I consider a creative headline; he borrowed from the old cliché – sing song to caption his piece which captures his reflections of Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s historic 2-day visit to Nigeria in October 2007.

I have often wondered why Nigerian newspapers have not caught up with their counterparts in the west, in serving their readers appetising and imaginative headlines. Attempting a guess, one may ascribe this to strict adherence to laid down rules and house styles, but then it could also be argued that such house styles may need updating to reflect changing social tastes, lifestyles and developments in global media practice.

Nigerian citizens are known for their worldly travels, and are used to seeing creative banners and headlines both in broadsheet and tabloid newspapers abroad. United Kingdom based newspapers such as the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Observer, and The Sun on a daily bases dish out scintillating headlines to the delight of their readers. Nigerians may be wondering therefore why Nigerian newspapers and magazines can not do the same at home.

Take for instance these two headlines which could be found on page 26 of the October 31st 2007 edition of the Financial Times (FT) newspaper:

1. Bic Struggles to shave into Gillettes’s market leadership.

2. Ford’s new top ‘car guy’ changes up a gear.

Obviously, the play of words and creativity in the titles are glaring for all to see. Perhaps the pick of the day in the same edition of the FT can be found on page 28, in a story aptly titled Power group runs into a Chinese wall, the story narrates CLP’s (Hong Kong’s largest power company) failure to meet its investment targets in China. Yes, a bit of exaggeration in the headline but there is no faulting the creativity, everyone knows about the great Chinese wall. How nice to bring in to the title of a story emanating from China.

In the past, I have read stories in UK newspapers with titles such as Jermaine Man, in reference to the striking abilities of Jermaine Defoe, the Tottenham Hotspur striker, playing on the common expression – The main man.

There may be a strong case for creative headline writing to be incorporated into the mass communication curriculum of Nigerian universities and journalism schools. This will greatly enrich the students’ learning as it will task their imagination and creativity. The newspapers may also need to recruit copywriters from advertising agencies to help them in this process.

This may just be a question of daring and being bold, the readers would eventually get used to such headlines. If well written this may even increase patronage, and constitute part of the competitive advantages of the respective newspapers and magazines.

Creative headlines should however not take the place of substance and content. There is still a place for well written and well researched pieces in the publications, my premise is that a creatively written banner headline or title will compliment a well researched piece or story; both will go hand in hand and will suit each other nicely just like butter and bread, or icing on a cake.

For the creative headline or title writer, events in the Nigerian polity easily lend themselves to imaginative captions. How about the following headlines for starters:

Etteh Eats Her Words– This could serve as a good heading for a story describing the resignation of Patricia Etteh as speaker of the House of Representatives. Recall that she was adamant and had boasted that not even the court could sack her. The play of words here are Etteh and Eat, a pun also for the bone (oops) of contention which is the embezzled or inflated contract sum of 600 million naira.

Kan U Help a Nigerian Child? A possible headline for an appeal from Kanu Nwankwo and founder of Kanu Heart Foundation for donations from the public to facilitate the work of his charity. The play of words here are on the words Kanu and Kan and the letter, U.

Ubah and Out: How many Nigerians would love to see a screaming banner such as this on the day the final supreme court judgement comes out against Andy Ubah on his plea to the court to upturn itself and reinstate him as the ‘elected’ governor of Anambra state? They call this onomatopoeia in English; the play of words is on closeness of the words Ubah and Over when pronounced.

Mark-ed Man: Perhaps now that Patricia Etteh is out, no newspaper will be blamed for speculating that David Mark, the senate president may follow suit as he still has unfinished business concerning contracts awarded by the senate under his watch. In that sense, no newspaper should be blamed so much for publishing a lead story on the issue with this type of headline. Note the clever use of the word – Mark, the suffix-ed completes the fate that may be awaiting the ‘distinguished’ senator or is he not one?

Jonathan: The Story of a Lucky Boy’s Good fortune: You would not need the god fortunes of a fortune teller to decode who is being referred to if you were ever to read a screamer like this. The title alone would have told half the story of Nigeria’s vice president, Jonathan Goodluck.

Super Eagles Grounded Again: That Nigerian footballers are doing well in various leagues in Europe is no longer news, neither are their recent poor performances in the national colours, and so the Nigerian press will be right to use a title like this in describing future poor performances. If the joke is lost on you, ask yourself, what’s an eagle than can not fly, or soar? An alternative version will be Super Eagles Fails to Launch. Think of the movie Failure to Launch and you will get the whole joke.

Ex-Abia Governor was Kal-ous: How I wished that it wasn’t Theodore Orji holding forth for Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) in Abia state, perhaps we could have seen many headlines like this from an incumbent from another political party, in trying to describe OUK’s 8-year rule or misrule of the state.

On the lighter side, I thought long and hard for a suitable title for this piece and almost settled for A-head of the News before deciding that the meaning may be lost in translation. So in trying to be imaginative in headline writing, the Nigerian press will best be advised to only adopt and use the headlines they think will work best, or one that suits the story.

I could go on with this creativity madness but wouldn’t want to be seen to be lost in my own world, but if you really have a go at formulating some headlines and titles yourself, you will see that it does make sense and is as easy as ABC. Yes, ABC, how about that for a transport story on the success strategy of ABC Transport, the luxury bus operator? There I go again.

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yabo November 8, 2007 - 11:38 pm

I think you have been away for too long no wonder you now see events in your country from the rooftops of the Buchingham Palace. This piece is also in bad taste. Nigerian writers and newspapers are among the world.s best. Why do we need such sensational headlines for? Please pay more attention to Nigerian newspapers. Journalists in this clime are striving to give the best in spite of hostile situation. What purpose will bogus headlines serve for a society in search of redemption?Please dont reduce the quality of our serious journalism to the practice of some ' Western whatever'. And I think is high time you moved away from your Uncle Tom mentality and find something better to write about.

Nwa Chris November 6, 2007 - 9:23 am

Uche, I wonder if "Etteh Eats Her Words", such a drab, hackneyed stuff, can be regarded as imaginative. The others you suggested are even worse. I think the soft sale people have overflogged the "Kal-ous" type you are recommending to serious newspapers. I wonder if you have not been so blinded by what you read in Western tabloids to see the the several imaginative headlines the Nigerian media cast daily. You are sounding so much like a school boy eager to teach his dad the new figures he had learnt at the nursery school earlier in the day.

kole November 1, 2007 - 2:27 am

My dear brother why spoil a good broth with this slip. "I have often wondered why Nigerian newspapers have not caught up with their counterparts in the west, in serving their readers appetising and imaginative headlines."

We do not need to catch up with the West. Our historical trajectories are different and the cultural context in which our news and reports can reflect the needs of our national agenda. Creativity is good but only when a people have a reading culture that allows them consume media texts with imagination. Do you ever forget how your attempts at "olatunji Dare" style of satire lands you in steaming pots of stew? Nuff said


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