Read this story and win $1 million!

Are you hooked? If only writing attention-grabbing headlines were that easy.

For nearly three decades, my duties as a copy editor have included distilling the essence of stories to the few words that run above them in big type. I’ve written headlines for arts, lifestyle and entertainment stories; local and national news stories; and, for the past three years, for opinion pieces.

Headline writing is the part of my job I most enjoy, both for the challenge and the chance to be creative. For the print paper, I may have as few as four or five words. Headlines for the website are less restrictive, but I find that more often than not, less really is more.

I keep a list at my desk of 24 headline-writing tips shared by a Seattle Times mentor. My Top 4 are be clear; be concise; be conversational; have fun.

The best headlines pop into my head right away, through word association, riffing on a writer’s tone or zeroing in on a piece’s main point. If inspiration doesn’t strike quickly, I move on to other tasks or clear my head with a break. Headlines are always in my subconscious, and I’ll think of better ones while commuting or brushing my teeth. I hate when that happens after print deadline! But one of the pluses of the web is that I can improve on headlines continuously. And the improvement process often involves another of those 24 tips: Collaboration.

I’m equally interested in hard news and pop culture. The latter naturally infused my arts and lifestyle headlines, but it has crept into some opinion headlines, too, such as “A Grinch-worthy shutdown threat” and “Buckle up for the impeachment express.”


If you would like to give it a try, think of the headlines you would like to see in The Seattle Times in 2020 and enter the Opinion section’s contest. Perhaps you have a heartfelt or humorous wish for or about Seattle, a political leader, a government policy or the world. There are guaranteed to be a lot of headlines about President Donald Trump. Try to think beyond him to stand out from the crowd. Deadline is Dec. 16.

The three readers who write the best headlines, as judged by our staff, will win … well, not $1 million. But they’ll receive some goodies and the satisfaction of a job well done.

HEADLINES OF 2020 CONTEST: Submit up to two headlines to with the subject line “2020 headline contest” by Dec. 16. Please include your full name, address and telephone number for verification. Winners will be published on the Opinion page on New Year’s Day.