The headline or heading is the text indicating the nature of the article below it.
The large type front page headline did not come into use until the late 19th century when increased competition between newspapers led to the use of attention-getting headlines.
It is sometimes termed a news hed, a deliberate misspelling that dates from production flow during hot type days, to notify the composing room that a written note from an editor concerned a headline and should not be set in type.
Headlines in English often use a set of grammatical rules known as headlinese, designed to meet stringent space requirements by, for example, leaving out forms of the verb "to be" and choosing short verbs like "eye" over longer synonyms like "consider".
A headline's purpose is to quickly and briefly draw attention to the story. It is generally written by a copy editor, but may also be written by the writer, the page layout designer, or other editors. The most important story on the front page above the fold may have a larger headline if the story is unusually important. The New York Times's 21 July 1969 front page stated, for example, that "MEN WALK ON MOON", with the four words in gigantic size spread from the left to right edges of the page.
The film The Shipping News has an illustrative exchange between the protagonist, who is learning how to write for a local newspaper, and his publisher:
In the United States, headline contests are sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society, the National Federation of Press Women, and many state press associations.
A number of newspapers use humour, puns, alliteration or other word play devices in their headlines. Equally, the need to keep headlines brief occasionally leads to unintentional double meanings, if not double entendres. For example, if the story is about the president of Iraq trying to acquire weapons, the headline might be IRAQI HEAD SEEKS ARMS, or if some agricultural legislation is defeated in the United States House of Representatives, the title could read FARMER BILL DIES IN HOUSE.
- WALL ST. LAYS AN EGG – Variety on Black Monday (1929)
- STICKS NIX HICK PIX – Variety writing that rural moviegoers preferred urban films (1935)
- DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN – Chicago Tribune reporting the wrong election winner (1948)
- FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD – New York Daily News reporting the denial of a federal bailout for bankrupt New York City (1975)
- MUSH FROM THE WIMP – Boston Globe in-house joke headline for an editorial, not changed before 161,000 copies printed. Theo Lippman Jr. of the Baltimore Sun declared "Mush from the Wimp" the second most famous newspaper headline of the 20th century, behind "Wall St. Lays an Egg" and ahead of "Ford to City: Drop Dead".
- HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR – New York Post on a local murder (1983)
- SICK TRANSIT'S GLORIOUS MONDAY – New York Daily News reporting a state transit bailout (1980)
- GOTCHA! – The UK Sun on the torpedoing of the Argentine ship Belgrano and sinking of a gunboat during the Falklands War (1982)
- FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER – The UK Sun (1986), claiming that the comedian had eaten a fan's pet hamster in a sandwich. The story was later proven false, but is seen as one of the classic tabloid newspaper headlines.
- GREAT SATAN SITS DOWN WITH THE AXIS OF EVIL – The Times (UK) on US-Iran talks (2007)
- SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS – Sun on Inverness Caledonian Thistle beating Celtic in the Scottish Cup
- WE ARE POPE (in German: Wir sind Papst); Bild after a German was voted to become pope Benedikt XVI in 2005.
Editor of The New Republic, Michael Kinsley, began a contest to find the most boring newspaper headline. According to him, no entry surpassed the one that had inspired him to create the contest: "WORTHWHILE CANADIAN INITIATIVE", over a column by The New York Times' Flora Lewis.
Research in 1980 classified newspaper headlines into four broad categories: questions, commands, statements, and explanations. Advertisers and marketers classify advertising headlines slightly differently into: questions, commands, benefits, news/information, and provocation.
Newspaper headlines are notably the most effective and reliable conduits of propaganda materials. The most common type of propaganda headlines are false equivalency, red herring, and whataboutism. These headlines often will appear to make incomparable objects equal, conduct irrelevant analogies and tangents away from a hidden kernel in the headline, or deflect blame from a third-party within the headline. These headlines, opinion-forming as any other media, serve as catalysts to cognitive dissonance, an oft-stated goal for dictatorships and totalitarian regimes. These ploys are not exclusive to unfree societies. Acclaimed news sources have been accused of utilizing similar tactics.
- Betteridge's law of headlines – An adage that states: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."
- A-1 Headline, a 2004 Hong Kong film
- Bus plunge, a type of news story, and accompanying headline
- Headlines (from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno)
- Lead paragraph
- Nut paragraph
- Syntactic ambiguity, leads to multiple humorous possible alternative interpretations of written headline