Timothy P. Carney writes in the Washington Examiner in the article Let's stop arguing with headlines that the writer didn't write:

If you're not a journalist, here's a trade secret: The person who wrote an article often isn't the same person who wrote the headline.

Is that an accurate description? Is the headline usually written by someone else than the author?

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    This is weird. Why is it even on-topic here? Are all factual statements up for review at skeptics.SE?
    – pipe
    Dec 22, 2017 at 10:44
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    @pipe : Notable factual claims are generally on-topic here. In this case, the topic is additionally very helpful because knowing about how headlines are written helps with doing critical reading. That's why Oddthinking interlinked the meta question.
    – Christian
    Dec 22, 2017 at 11:42

1 Answer 1


The job role of writing headlines varies between organisations, but, yes, there are plenty of organisations where it is written by someone other than main author of the article.

Wikipedia can't be relied on here, but it gives an [unreferenced] overview of the situation.

[a headline] is generally written by a copy editor, but may also be written by the writer, the page layout designer, or other editors.

While I don't attempt to give precise numbers, I think these examples are sufficient to show that it is "often".

  • This job description of Press Sub-editor gives a general idea:

    [Press sub-editors, or subs] also lay out the story on the page, write headings and captions, and may be involved with overall page design.

  • New York Times explains:

    Readers often assume that reporters write their own headlines. In fact, they rarely do. Most headlines at The Times, print headlines in particular, are written by editors experienced in the task.

  • The Guardian has an article What do subeditors do?, which explains some of the attributes of how they write good headlines.

  • The Hollywood Reporter is advertising for a Senior Copy Editor. Duties include:

    Write headlines, deks, captions as needed to expedite copy flow

  • One journalist from The Sun was "aghast" at a headline that didn't match his story, showing they were written by different people.

    He said he had described the claims against Liverpool fans as ‘allegations’ in his piece. Mr Arnold said it was then editor Kelvin MacKenzie who wrote the headline ‘The Truth’ above the story.

On the other hand, some organisations give more of a role to the journalist.

  • In 2009, at the Financial Times, the role was pushed from the subeditor to the author, which was a big enough story for the Guardian to report on it:

    Financial Times reporters will have to subedit parts of their own stories, including writing draft headlines as the paper launches the next phase of its digital integration.

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    A related question on meta deals with some problems this causes: How should we deal with claims that only appear in article headlines?
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 20, 2017 at 14:12
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    As a former newspaper reporter (and later online editor), I concur. Writing headlines, especially to fit available space, is a different skill from writing stories. As a print reporter, you wouldn't even know whether you story would have a main head and a subhead, or what size either would be. (Though newer pagination systems may show you once a story is assigned to a page design.) And for the web, you have to know search engine optimization. Also, it's possible for stories -- or just lead paragraphs -- to be rewritten without the writer's involvement. Dec 20, 2017 at 16:03
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    @MichaelRichardson Is your comment based on evidence? If so, can you explain how you know what you know?
    – Christian
    Dec 20, 2017 at 20:30
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    @Christian what Michael writes matches my own limited personal experience, and matches my discussions with journalists: we suggest a headline, but then the sub-ed or whoever is responsible for headline-writing will do what they like (and in my case, will always ignore what I suggest!)
    – 410 gone
    Dec 21, 2017 at 9:44
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    @Trilarion: The word "often" is vague, but that's what the claim says. The context is always going to be important too. (Headlines on blog articles are normally written by the author.) I thought by showing that it was true at many major newspapers, it should be sufficient to see it is common enough to be a consideration when attributing credit/blame for headlines.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 22, 2017 at 13:16

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