This time last year, Khoi Vinh — former design director of the New York Times — wrote a heart-wrenching post entitled “The sad story of illustration of the web.”

In it, Vinh mourned the fact that, thanks to 24-7 publishing schedules and slashed budgets, web publications rarely commission original illustrations. Instead, says Vinh…

“digital publishing traffics in photographic images, most of them literal — an article about President Obama will be accompanied by a photo of President Obama.”

Re-reading Khoi’s post this morning, I realized that I share much of his frustration with the way blogging is killing creativity. Not so much the lack of visual creativity: I’m not a designer, I’m a word guy. Rather, what makes me weep is the death of brilliant puns in headlines.

Growing up in the UK, I was surrounded by journalistic punnery. Take, for example, this 2006 headline regarding North Korea’s unsanctioned testing of nuclear weapons…

Or how about the same paper’s reporting of Caledonian Thistle football club’s victory over rivals Celtic…

Just take a moment to savor the work that must have gone into that one: “SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS.” Amazing.

Small, regional newspapers play a good game too. I remember almost weeping with joy on hearing a story about library closures in the town of Ongar, Essex, not far from where I grew up. The headline?


On this side of the Atlantic, The New York Post frequently displays the same genius — and questionable taste — as its British sister paper. Who can forget its coverage of the Dominic Strauss-Kahn trial under headlines like “FROG LEGS IT” and “BOOTY GAUL”?

Meanwhile, more cultured readers might enjoy Vanity Fair’s story about the battle for NPR, titled as it is: “National Public Rodeo“.

Here in the blogosphere, however, there’s little-to-no place for editorial cleverness in headlines. Search engine optimization of headlines and a relentless drive for clickthroughs means that headlines must either be absolutely direct…

“IT’S OFFICIAL: KODAK IS BANKRUPT” shouts the front page of Business Insider, while AOL news dryly informs us that “Newt’s Ex Gives ‘Bombshell’ Interview”

…or infuriatingly opaque…

“McDonald’s Employee Makes Disgusting Find” teases a second AOL headline, practically begging us to click; while Business Insider flashes an ankle with “This Is The Number One Thing People Are Using Kindle Fires For”.

What blog headlines are not allowed to be, however, is clever. Because clever doesn’t get search traffic, and clever certainly doesn’t get clicks. How sad.

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