The Edgy, Boring and Obvious in Headlines

Our friends over at the New York Times had a kind of funny headline today. The anchors on "Squawk" this morning were poking a little fun at it. Here it is: "At Moody's Some Debt Was Rated Incorrectly." Well, duh.

Actually it's a pretty good story, involving employees that allegedly broke the rules in rating some European securities. That peg backs into the whole ratings-were-off-on-a-lot-of-securities issue. Nice piece. You can read it here. The headline just doesn't do it justice.

But I have lots of sympathy. Headlines are an ongoing issue with me.

Ideally you want headlines to be edgy and intriguing ... a way to entice readers into the work your staff has put so much blood, sweat and tears into (well, sometimes not THAT much work). Of course you can get too edgy. Over the edge, in fact. (Sometimes I wander there. Luckily, I have a great staff that politely pulls me back). The downside of edgy: Readers flamemail you, accuse you of hype, and maybe go away.

Then again, there's a virtue to having headlines be succinct and to the point, especially in business news, where readers tend to be largely "no nonsense" types.

But in that regard, the danger is boredom. Nothing is worse than a set of boring headlines. And they can be, like the one above, too obvious. But they are safe. A lot of editors like being safe. The downside of safe: Readers go away. The stats bear that out.

One of the common complaints within business journalism is that it goes unappreciated by the masses. Stories about the credit crisis and debt-instrument values ... items which will affect everyone in one way or another ... get a fraction of the readership of a story about Paris Hilton. True, a bond rating is not as attractive as her. And in a lot of cases, it is what it is. But we could at least try to tart it up a little.

How about "Bad Boys Break Rules in Tawdry Ratings Tryst"? Well, maybe not.

Related: Seven things you can't say on financial TV.