There, on the front page of Yahoo, was what was sure to be the biggest news story of the year.
“Bad-boy Actor Pummels Justin Bieber.”
Finally, after tormenting the world for what seems like years, some actor had taken care of Bieber once and for all. It was probably Nicholas Cage. Cage doesn’t seem to have a lot going on lately. Add that pent-up crazy to repeatedly hearing Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” and you have a situation prime for a Cage beat down.
Clearly, I had no choice but to click on the story.
Instead of a story describing Nicholas Cage screaming “Swaggie this!” as he unleashed a fury of fists on Bieber’s prepubescent face, I found a much less pleasant surprise. This was not a news story. This was just Bieber’s new video.
I had been sucked in by a misleading title. Some tricky writer at Yahoo had done their best to get more reads by crafting a perfectly sneaky headline.
After my initial disappointment dissipated, I came to realize something. I could also gain readers by using this technique. It doesn’t matter what I write. All that matters is the headline.
I began to study this headline carefully. All of the elements of a sensational story were there. You had an “important” figure. You had a terribly dramatic story. Combine the two and you are certain to get a great number of incredibly confused and mildly upset readers.
Finding someone more popular than Bieber for my headline would be hard. His soulful voice and ambiguous gender have made him the most popular singer in the world. In fact, only one other singer has the same level of voice and gender confusion as Bieber. Only one person could be as popular.
While Bieber would have been enough to get a few clicks for Yahoo, they added a mystery. Who was the “bad-boy actor?” More than anything, I wanted to know who it was that beat him up. Even a person who could not care less about Bieber would be curious.
Following this, I added my own mystery. Whatever was going to happen, Gaga would be doing it with a mystery man. People would see it and immediately have a million questions. Is it her boyfriend? Is her boyfriend Justin Bieber? Is her boyfriend the one who beat up Justin Bieber? Does having a boyfriend make Lady Gaga a heterosexual or homosexual? These questions would lead to hundreds, nay, thousands of readers.
But what would Gaga and her mystery boy toy be doing? It has to be fantastical enough to draw people to it. If the headline had been “Bad-boy Actor Buys Justin Bieber an Ice Cream Cone,” no one would care. It has to be crazy.
Drug use is too common. Dog fighting is too Michael Vick. Wrestling zoo animals is too unbelievable. After a bit of work, I had it.
“Lady Gaga and Mystery Man Arrested After Hot Air Balloon Joy Ride*”
Of course, as a responsible journalist, I feel compelled to add the following disclaimer:
*Lady Gaga has not actually been linked to a mystery man and, to my knowledge, has never been arrested for any hot air balloon related crimes. It is a situation that is possible, though. Just imagine it. What a huge story that would be. I guess that’s probably why you clicked on this post in the first place. You thought you were about to read a huge story.
Now I feel slightly responsible to give you a real story. I just ate a Hershey’s Bliss bar for the first time and it’s pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. I know it’s not as good as the Gaga story, but at least you know of a pretty decent candy bar. I think we can all count this as a win.