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A Headline Act

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One of the toughest lessons I learnt in journalism was – surprisingly – at Elle, where I worked for three years as features director.

The editor (Fiona MacIntosh, who went on to launch Grazia) had previously worked in tabloid newspapers, and was a stickler for clever headlines and coverlines. Before she’d give the go-ahead for any story, she wanted to know what the headline and the standfirst would say. She wanted to know who the main protagonists of the story were, and what they looked like. And she wanted to know how long the story would be – and whether it would benefit from additional side boxes. In short, before a piece was commissioned, she knew pretty much what it would say and what it would look like.

Getting a story past her was hard work, but brilliant training because it taught me to think of the end result right from the start.

Today, when I am commissioning a journalist, I want to know the same things. “What’s will the headline be for the story? Who are you going to talk to? What’s new about it? What or who will the pictures be of – and are they photogenic? Are there great photographs already or will we have to do a shoot?”

When you are pitching one of your clients – or about to send a press release – to a journalist, it’s probably worth asking the same questions beforehand.

Having a clear understanding of what the story is, who the main protagonists are, what the scenes and characters will look like – and having it all mapped out and headlined in your head – won’t just save you time, but everyone.

There’s nothing a busy editor likes more than a good new story landing on their desk that is perfect for their publication. If it’s also headlined and photographed, even better.


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