Online Headlines vs Print Headlines

David Langton
6 min readAug 23, 2021
It’s still the same old story…so why are the headlines different?

Writing for digital vs. print audiences is different. Here’s how you get the most out of your online headlines.

Every Sunday I settle into a comfy chair and read the New York Times — in print. I snap open my favorite section (The Week in Review) and read and pontificate to my wife who sits across the room doing her Sunday Times reading on her iPhone. We frequently discuss (and argue about) the news and then I’ll go to my phone and try to send her the article I am reading to prove my point. But, the headlines are rarely the same. And in many cases, when I search the headline from the print edition I can’t find the article! (It has become easier to find the article since they’ve started adding the “print headline” in the article description.)

Why are the headlines different? In most cases, online stories are found via search, where print articles are found on the page next to photos and illustrations. Overall the print headlines are more imaginative and poetic while the online headlines are more descriptive and detailed. Online headlines are more likely to include keywords that may show up in searches. Print headlines are more likely to repurpose an Elvis Costello lyric or use a Shakespearean reference. In an article about online headlines The New York Times explains the difference between print and digital writing:

“Editors are afforded more freedom with the digital version of a headline because they’re not constrained by the space available on a given page. “Often we have to boil down a lengthy web head to three lines just a column wide, which can mean just six words,” said Lew Serviss, a senior news editor at The Times.

What can we learn about online writing vs print writing from examining a few headlines?
I took a look at a few articles from the New York Times on Friday, August 13, 2021, to make a few observations. The Weekend Arts section has this headline, “Do Classical Paintings Get a Pass?” I had to search for “Titian Exhibition” to find the online story because the online title is “Can We Ever Look at Titian’s Paintings the Same Way Again?” The print edition features a shorter and open-ended question. You have to look at the large photo of the painting and read the subtitle (“Looking at a Titian…

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David Langton

Founder of New York branding design firm Langton Creative Group, co-author of Visual Marketing, and adjunct professor at Hostos College/CUNY.