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This paper suggests an explanatory functional characterization of newspaper headlines. Couched within Sperber and Wilson's (1986) relevance theory, the paper makes the claim that headlines are designed to optimize the relevance of their stories for their readers: Headlines provide the readers with the optimal ratio between contextual effect and processing effort, and direct readers to construct the optimal context for interpretation. The paper presents the results of an empirical study conducted in the news-desk of one daily newspaper. It shows that the set of intuitive professional imperatives, shared by news-editors and copy-editors, which dictates the choice of headlines for specific stories, can naturally be reduced to the notion of relevance optimization. The analysis explains why the construction of a successful headline requires an understanding of the readers—their state-of-knowledge, their beliefs and expec-tations and their cognitive styles—no less than it requires an understanding of the story. It also explains the fact that skilled newspaper readers spend most of their reading time scanning the headlines—rather than reading the stories. # 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
On newspaper headlines as relevance optimizers
Daniel Dor*
Department of Communications, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
This paper suggests an explanatory functional characterization of newspaper headlines.
Couched within Sperber and Wilson’s (1986) relevance theory, the paper makes the claim that
headlines are designed to optimize the relevance of their stories for their readers: Headlines
provide the readers with the optimal ratio between contextual effect and processing effort, and
direct readers to construct the optimal context for interpretation. The paper presents the
results of an empirical study conducted in the news-desk of one daily newspaper. It shows that
the set of intuitive professional imperatives, shared by news-editors and copy-editors, which
dictates the choice of headlines for specific stories, can naturally be reduced to the notion of
relevance optimization. The analysis explains why the construction of a successful headline
requires an understanding of the readers—their state-of-knowledge, their beliefs and expec-
tations and their cognitive styles—no less than it requires an understanding of the story. It
also explains the fact that skilled newspaper readers spend most of their reading time scanning
the headlines—rather than reading the stories.
#2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Headlines; Relevance theory; Pragmatics; News value; News framing; Media, communication
1. Introduction
This paper is an attempt to suggest an explicit and generalized answer to a very
fundamental question in the study of the mass media, i.e., the question of the com-
municative function of newspaper headlines. The importance of the role of headlines
in the communicative act performed by newspapers can hardly be exaggerated, yet
the nature of this role has virtually never been explicated in the literature. As we
shall see below, the regular strategy adopted in the literature has been to make fine-
grained descriptive distinctions between different types of headlines—news headlines
in ‘quality newspapers’; news headlines in ‘tabloid newspapers’; ‘summarizing
Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
0378-2166/02/$ - see front matter #2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S0378-2166(02)00134-0
* Tel.: +972-3–6406521; fax: +972-3-6406032.
E-mail address: (D. Dor).
headlines’; ‘localizing headlines’, ‘quotation headlines’, etc.—and assign them dif-
ferent types of communicative functions. In this paper, I will suggest an explanatory
functional definition of newspaper headlines which attempts to transcend the above
distinctions in type and explain the very fact that newspapers—all types of news-
papers—have headlines in them. The functional definition to be developed in this
paper relies very heavily on Sperber and Wilson’s (1986) technical notion of rele-
vance. Newspaper headlines will be functionally defined as relevance optimizers:
Newspaper headlines are relevance optimizers: They are designed to optimize the
relevance of their stories for their readers.
This functional definition positions the headline in its appropriate role as a textual
negotiator between the story and its readers. It explains why the construction of a
successful headline requires an understanding of the readers—their state-of-knowl-
edge, their beliefs and expectations and their cognitive styles—no less than it
requires an understanding of the story. It reduces the differences between the differ-
ent subtypes of headlines mentioned above to a matter of tactical choice: As we shall
see, all the different subtypes target the same functional goal, that of relevance
optimization, although they do it in different ways.
The literature on newspaper headlines covers a wide range of theoretical and
empirical topics, all the way from the grammar of English headlines to the effects of
headlines on news comprehension and recall.
Surprisingly, however, the literature
dealing directly with the communicative function of headlines is rather sparse. I will
review it in the next section. In Section 3, I will briefly introduce Sperber and Wil-
son’s theory, and then develop the notion of relevance optimization.InSection 4,I
will apply the notion of relevance optimization to newspaper headlines. In Section 5,
I will present the results of an empirical study conducted in the news-desk of the
Israeli national newspaper Ma’ariv, where I followed the process of headline pro-
duction from close range.
I will show that the set of intuitive professional impera-
tives, shared by news-editors and copy-editors, which dictates the choice of
headlines for specific stories, can naturally be reduced to one meta-imperative: Make
the headline such that it renders the story optimally-relevant for the readers. In Section
6, I will apply the relevance-based conception to the analysis of tabloid headlines. In
Section 7, I will deal with the role of the reader in this framework, and show that my
relevance-based theory explains some of the more intriguing behavioral patterns
manifested by newspaper readers—especially the fact that many skilled readers
On headline reading, interpretation and recall, see Henley et al. (1995), Leon (1997), Lindemann
(1989), Perfetti et al. (1987), Pfau (1995) and van Dijk (1988 and references therein); on headline pro-
duction, see Bell (1984, 1991), Fasold (1987) and Chang et al. (1992); on the grammar of headlines, see
Bell (1984), Jenkins (1990) and Mardh (1980); on metaphors in headlines, see de Knop (1985); on head-
lines from a cross-linguistic perspective, see Dierick (1987) and Sidiropoulou (1995).
Between 1996 and 1998, I worked as a senior news-editor and head of the news-desk in Ma’ariv. This
was a period of very intensive participant observation: I was involved in the decision-making process
concerning the formulation of thousands of headlines. The e-mail exchanges which were analyzed for this
paper were randomly collected throughout this period—from other senior editors.
696 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
spend most of their reading time scanning the headlines rather than reading the
stories. In the concluding section, I will sketch some of the larger-scale implications
of my theory, and suggest some directions for further research.
2. Multiple types, multiple functions
Traditionally, newspaper headlines have been functionally characterized as short,
telegram-like summaries of their news items. This is especially true with respect to
news headlines. Van Dijk (1988) couches this traditional insight within his discourse-
analytic framework: ‘‘Each news item in the press has a Headline ... and many have
a Lead, whether marked off by special printing type or not. We also have an ele-
mentary rule for them: Headline precedes Lead, and together they precede the rest
of the news item. Their structural function is also clear: Together they express the
major topics of the text. That is, they function as an initial summary. Hence, as in
natural stories, we may also introduce the category Summary, dominating Headline
and Lead. The semantic constraint is obvious: Headline+Lead summarize the news
text and express the semantic macrostructure.’’
Obviously, some newspaper headlines do provide what seems to be a summary (or
abstract) of their stories, but the general theoretical conception which takes this to
be the essential function of the headline seems to be too narrow, for at least three
complementary reasons. First, even the most prototypical news headlines, those
which appear in what is sometimes called ‘quality newspapers’, do not always sum-
marize their stories. Some headlines highlight a single detail extracted out of the
story, and others contain a quotation which the editor decided should be promoted
to the foreground. As we shall see below, some headlines even contain material
which does not appear in the news item itself. The fact that headlines do not always
summarize, but sometimes highlight or quote, has been noted by different writers.
Bell (1991), for example, makes a distinction between headlines which ‘‘abstract the
main event of the story’’, and headlines which ‘‘focus on a secondary event or a
detail’’ (p. 188–9). Nir (1993) distinguishes between headlines which function as ‘‘a
summary of the story’’ and ‘‘headlines which, rather than summarize the story,
promote one of the details of the story’’ (p. 25).
Second, the traditional notion of headlines-as-summaries definitely does not capture
the function of headlines in more popular newspapers, and especially in tabloids. This
point has been made by different writers, most notably by Lindemann (1990). As Lin-
demann shows, tabloid headlines rarely summarize their stories, are not always tele-
gram-like, and in many cases are not even informative. Lindemann discusses the
Note that none of the above writers goes beyond the descriptive labeling of the different types of
headlines to suggest explicit theoretical definitions and explanations. This fact is most clearly demon-
strated by Bernstein and Garst (1982), quoted in Lindemann (1990), who claim that ‘‘... the headline
contains the main highlight of the story. Since it is the most conspicuous part and the part that is read
first, the copy editor must present the essence of the news before he goes further’’. In this short quotation,
Bernstein and Garst seem to equate the essence of the story with its highlight, thus equating the function
of summarizing with that of highlighting.
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 697
function of tabloid headlines in poetic terms: They present the reader with a ‘‘fairly
complex riddle’’, which, first, triggers frames and belief systems in the reader’s mind,
and, then, gets resolved in the ensuing text. Thus, the following headline,
(1) NO-LA-LA! The Frogs Get Bored with Bed
traps the reader ‘‘in the treadmill of well-established cliches and prejudice’’, through
the use of such expressions as frogs,no-la-la and bed, and is then informationally
resolved in the intro: ‘‘The days of the great French lovers are over—froggies just
don’t fancy it any more. A third of women and a quarter of men told a nationwide
survey they found bedtime one big yawn’’.
Implicit in Lindemann’s analysis is the assumption, that the function of tabloid
headlines is so radically different from their function in quality newspapers, that the
two cannot be theoretically unified. As I will show below, the relevance-based ana-
lysis will allow exactly for that—to my mind, a very welcome theoretical result.
The third reason to reject the traditional conception is the simple fact that head-
lines seem to have an additional, pragmatic function, beyond the semantically-
oriented function which is supposed to be captured by the headline-as-summary
analysis. Bell (1991) says that headlines are a ‘‘part of news rhetoric whose function
is to attract the reader’’ (p. 189). Nir (1993) claims that the headline has ‘‘to attract
the attention of the reader and provoke the reader to read the whole story’’. In a
sophisticated analysis of the semiotics of headlines, Iarovici and Amel (1989)
explicitly contend that the headline has a ‘‘double function’’:
‘‘The implicit convention between author and reader regarding the intention of
correlating a text to another text as a headline, and regarding the formal marking
of this quality by a privileged position, concerns the double function of the head-
line: a semantic function, regarding the referential text, and a pragmatic function,
regarding the reader (the receiver) to whom the text is addressed. The two func-
tions are simultaneous, the semantic function being included in and justified by
the pragmatic function. ... The main function of the headline ... is to alert the
reader (receiver) to the nature or the content of the text. This is the pragmatic
function of the headline, and it includes the semantic one. The headline enables
the reader to grasp the meaning of the text. The headline functions as a
plurality of speech acts (urging, warning, and informing)’’ (p. 441–443).
The challenge posed by the above assertions is that of theoretical unification. At
least two questions are involved: First, can we functionally define the headline in a
way which would transcend the above distinctions between the different semanti-
cally-oriented functions? In other words, is there a generalized function which sum-
marizing headlines, localizing headlines and quotation headlines have in common?
Second, can we define the headline in a way which would transcend the distinction
between the above semantic function and the parallel pragmatic function which
698 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
headlines fulfill? I would like to claim that this theoretical move becomes possible
once we couch the functional analysis of headlines within the framework of Sperber
and Wilson’s (1986) theory of relevance.
3. Relevance theory and relevance optimization
Sperber and Wilson’s theory is an attempt to reduce a very complex set of phe-
nomena having to do with communication and interpretation to a very constrained
set of explanatory, cognitive notions. In its essence, the theory is one of cognitive
cost-effectiveness: It claims that human cognitive processes are geared to achieving
the greatest possible cognitive effect for the smallest processing effort. This meta-
principle is incarnated in Sperber and Wilson’s technical notion of relevance. Let us
take a look at the fundamental tenets of this framework:
Our starting point is the individual mind: Every individual mentally represents in
his or her mind a huge set of assumptions. Assumptions are propositional entities-
they are the type of entities that can be believed to be true. Our assumptions may
include, among other things, information on the immediate physical environment,
expectations about the future, scientific hypotheses, religious beliefs, anecdotal
memories, general cultural assumptions, beliefs about the personal lives of our
acquaintances, knowledge about politics and history, beliefs about our own emo-
tions, fears and hopes, and so on. Each of the assumptions represented by the indi-
vidual has a ‘‘strength’’ for that individual. The strength of the assumption for the
individual is the level of confidence with which the individual holds to the belief that
the assumption is true. The strength of the assumption is a function of its cognitive
processing history. Thus, for example, ‘‘assumptions based on a clear perceptual
experience tend to be very strong; assumptions based on the acceptance of some-
body’s word have a strength commensurate with one’s confidence in the speaker; the
strength of assumptions arrived at by deduction depends on the strength of the pre-
mises from which they were derived’’ (p. 77) Note that the strength of an assumption
for the individual has nothing to do with its objective validity—individuals may have a
very strong belief in assumptions which are totally false, and vice versa.
When an individual hears, or reads, a novel assumption, he or she always inter-
prets it in a context. The notion of context is used here as a psychological construct:
It is a subset of the assumptions which the hearer already represents in his or her
long-term memory. Informally, what the mind of the individual does in the process
of interpretation may be thought of as a comparison of the new assumption with the
subset of assumptions represented in the individual’s memory. Sperber and Wilson
name the cognitive apparatus responsible for this process of comparison- ‘‘the
deductive device’’. The comparison of the novel assumption with the existing
The general notion of pragmatic relevance, which is not to be equated with Sperber and Wilson’s
technical one, plays some role in van Dijk’s (1988) analysis of news selection. However, van Dijk does not
make the connection between his notion of relevance and the function of headlines, which he takes to be
summaries of their texts.
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 699
assumptions may have different types of outputs: It may turn out, for example, that
the novel assumption already exists in the individual’s long term-memory, in which
case it is not new for the individual. Or it may be new, in which case it may either be
in line, or in contradiction with some of the already existing assumptions. If, for
example, the novel assumption contradicts existing assumptions, and if it is strong
enough, the process of comparison will end up with the weakening of the existing
assumptions. In some cases, it may even end up with the erasure of those assump-
tions. If the new information is in line with some existing assumptions, it may serve
to strengthen them some more. Moreover, the union of the new assumption with
some existing assumptions may lead to the deduction of additional assumptions.
Thus, for example, if the individual already represents the assumption that ‘‘whenever
Peter goes to a party, it becomes a success’’, and he or she now learns that ‘‘Peter came
to Bill’s party’’, then the deductive device deduces an additional assumption, namely
that ‘‘Bill’s party was a success’’. To the extent that the comparison of the new
assumption with the old ones results in a change to the individual’s set of prior
assumptions (if it either adds new assumptions, or weakens or strengthens existing
ones), we say that the new information has a contextual effect for the individual.
Now, the following point is crucial: The deductive device does not compare every
novel assumption to the entire set of assumptions represented in the individual’s long-
term memory. Doing this would be cognitively impossible. This means that the com-
parison is done with some subset of existing assumptions. This, in turn, raises a very
important question: How does the deductive device choose this subset? Traditionally,
pragmaticists have assumed that the context for the interpretation of an utterance is
simply given: It consists of the immediate environment and the information explicitly
mentioned in the conversation prior to the utterance. Sperber and Wilson flip this
assumption on its head and suggest a radical alternative: They show that the deductive
device has to update the context for the interpretation for each new assumption, and
that the specific subset of existing assumptions which is chosen for the context is deter-
mined, at least partially, by the content of the new assumption. In cognitive terms, this
means that the order of events in comprehension is reversed: It is not that the deductive
device first sets the context, and then interprets the new assumption. On the contrary,
the deductive device has to partially figure out the meaning of the new assumption,
retrieve a specific subset of assumptions from long-term memory, store them in its own
short-term memory, and then make the comparison. An example should make this
radical conception rather intuitive. Take a look at the following exchanges:
(2) A: How are you?
B: Not so good, Mary has that ear-infection again, I’m worried.
(3) A: How are you?
B: Great, I just bought the tickets. We’re flying to Beijing in exactly four weeks.
In order to interpret B’s answer in each of these exchanges, A has to compare
them to a subset of existing assumptions. The proper context in (2) should include
assumptions about the identity of Mary, her relation to B, her medical history, ear-
700 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
infections, and so on and so forth. The proper context in (3) should include
assumptions about B’s travel plans, the identity of her companion, or companions,
whatever assumptions A has about Beijing, and so on and so forth. Obviously, these
assumptions are not stored in A’s short-term memory on a permanent basis. A’s
deductive device has to retrieve these assumptions from long-term memory, and
only then make the comparison and deduce the contextual effects.
We may now make two parallel cognitive assumptions regarding the process I
have described. First, we may assume that in its appropriate context, a new piece of
information has a certain number of contextual effects, which, at least theoretically,
can be counted. Practically speaking, when we deal with interpretations of actual
utterances by real people, we do not know exactly how to make the measurement,
but the idea itself is intuitive enough for us to accept. We may be pretty certain that
in different contexts, the same piece of information may yield different amounts of
contextual effects, and that in the same context, some pieces of information would
yield more contextual effects than others.
Second, we may assume that the work of the deductive device involves some
mental effort, which—theoretically speaking, again- may be measured.
Other things
being equal, for example, the computation of a more complex piece of information
will take more effort than the computation of a simpler one. Moreover, the con-
struction of a new context for interpretation also involves some mental effort: To the
extent that the interpretation of the novel piece of information necessitates the
retrieval of a larger set of assumptions from long-term memory, the mental effort
involved in the interpretation process would be greater.
The measurements of contextual effect and mental effort constitute the basis of
Sperber and Wilson’s notion of relevance:
(4) Relevance for an individual (p. 145):
a. An assumption is relevant to an individual to the extent that the contextual
effects achieved when it is optimally processed are large.
b. An assumption is relevant to an individual to the extent that the effort
required to process it optimally is small.
It is crucial to understand that this is not a definition of relevance in some objec-
tive sense, but a claim concerning the way our minds make relevance judgments
about new assumptions: We consider new assumptions to be relevant if they carry a
contextual effect at a reasonable cognitive price. We judge new assumptions to be
irrelevant if they do not carry a contextual effect, or if the computation of the con-
textual effect entails too much of a mental effort. Note that this is a comparative,
gradual conception of relevance, rather than a binary one: New assumptions are not
either relevant or not; they are more or less relevant than others, in different con-
texts, for different people. Thus, for example, a regular newspaper reader will prob-
Sperber and Wilson (1986, p. 130) conceptualize about the measurement of contextual effects and
cognitive effort in terms of physico-chemical changes which occur in the brain as a result of the processing
of the contextual effects.
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 701
ably judge a piece of local news to be more relevant than a piece of foreign news
because (i) the potential contextual effect derivable from the local news would
probably be larger; and (ii) the effort needed to interpret the foreign news (especially
in terms of the retrieval of the appropriate set of assumptions from long-term
memory) would probably be larger. This judgment need not be made consciously;
the reader may simply skip the foreign-news page, or note that ‘foreign news is
boring’. Note, however, that the very same reader may take the trouble to read the
foreign news to the extent that their contextual effects would be worth his or her
processing effort. This may be the case, for example, if the story is about a country
which the reader intends to visit; if some people which the reader knows are there; if
there is a local angle to the foreign story; if the foreign story has a global con-
sequence which is felt locally, and so on.
Finally, note that this technical notion of relevance should not be equated with
relevance in the ordinary sense of the word. Relevance in this ordinary sense may be
thought of as the measurement of the association, or congruence, between some
content and its context of interpretation. Thus, a news story will be relevant in this
sense to the extent that it is about those issues which are directly related to the
readers’ lives and interests. Indeed, relevance in this sense may play a role in news
value judgments. Note, however, that a story may be relevant in this ordinary sense
but very low on relevance in the technical sense (if it is long and complicated to read,
for example, or if it does not carry a lot of new information); and it may be irrele-
vant in the ordinary sense, but high on relevance in the technical sense- if its poten-
tial contextual effects justify the construction of a new context for interpretation.
Now, our technical definition of relevance is addressee-oriented, but it may actu-
ally tell us something of importance about the role of speakers in communicative
contexts. Think about a speaker, Ann, who is trying to tell her addressee, John, a
story. Being a cooperative communicator, Ann would like to make the story as rele-
vant for John as possible. How should she go about achieving this goal? According to
relevance theory, she has three principled strategies which she can try to adopt:
(i) First, Ann can try to compress the largest possible number of new assump-
tions (those which are new for John) into her story: Other things being equal,
the more new assumptions the story contains, the more contextual effects it
may have for John. In the worst-case scenario, the story will not contain any
assumptions which are new for John, in which case he is going to find it
totally irrelevant. Ann definitely needs to find a way to do better than that. In
the best-case scenario, on the other hand, the story will contain a very large
number of new assumptions. As we shall see below, this is not always going
to be possible.
(ii) Second, Ann can try to minimize John’s processing effort: Other things being
equal, the smaller the effort he has to put in, the greater the relevance of the
story is going to be for him. In the worst-case scenario, the story is going to
be too long and complicated, and John is going to lose interest. Ann defi-
nitely has to avoid that. In the best-case scenario, on the other hand, the
702 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
story will take a very minimal effort to process. Again, this is not always
going to be possible.
(iii) Third, Ann can try to manipulate the context in which John is going to
interpret her story. Other things being equal, the closer the context of inter-
pretation is to the optimal one, the more contextual effects the story is going
to carry for John. (Note that in regular conversation we regularly take the
trouble to manipulate our addressee’s context of interpretation, especially
when we wish to ‘‘change the topic of conversation’’: We say things like ‘Oh,
I wanted to tell you something about Bill’, or ‘talking about school, did you
hear about Bill’s exam?’). In the worst-case scenario, John is going to try to
interpret Ann’s story in the wrong context, and the interpretation is going to
yield no contextual effects. In the best-case scenario, the story is going to be
interpreted in the most appropriate context, yielding the maximal amount of
contextual effects. This, again, is not always going to be possible.
Now, it is very important to realize that the three strategies mentioned above are
not only completely intertwined, but are also in direct competition with each other.
This is why achieving the maximal results associated with each of the strategies is
not always possible. This is so for the following reasons:
(i) First, every new assumption which the speaker adds to the story does not
only contribute to the overall number of contextual effects- it also adds to the
overall processing effort. Thus, the new assumption adds to the overall rele-
vance of the story only to the extent that it clearly adds more contextual effect
than processing effort. To the extent that the new assumption adds more to
the processing effort than to the contextual effect, it actually reduces the
overall relevance of the story. In this case, more information results in less
relevance. So, the attempt to maximize relevance simply by maximizing the
amount of new information is bound to end up in failure. The speaker has to
figure out the optimal amount of information which would not result in rele-
vance reduction due to processing effort.
(ii) Second, Ann may definitely try to maximally reduce John’s processing effort
by making her story short, simple and clear, but this reduction will not
necessarily result in maximal relevance: This is so, because the reduction in
the story’s complexity characteristically reduces the number of its potential
contextual effects. The reduction of processing effort will enhance the rele-
vance of Ann’s story only to the extent that the amount of effort saved is
larger than the amount of contextual effects lost. So, again, Ann cannot
simply reduce John’s processing effort to the minimum. She has to figure out
the optimal amount of effort which would not result in relevance reduction
due to loss of contextual effects.
(iii) Third, the number of contextual effects which John may deduce from Ann’s
story is not just a function of the sheer number of new assumptions in the
story, but a function of the interaction between these new assumptions and
the context of interpretation. This means that Ann should not just provide
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 703
John with the optimal number of new assumptions, but also take care to
provide him with those specific assumptions which would yield the maximal
amount of contextual effects in the appropriate context, and at the very same
time direct John to construct that specific context. This complicates our rele-
vance considerations to a considerable extent, because the construction of the
appropriate context entails a significant amount of processing effort. Conse-
quently, in principle, the construction of the appropriate context may even-
tually result in relevance reduction due to the increase in processing effort.
Thus, the construction of a partial context for interpretation may sometimes
be the optimal strategy.
As we have seen, Ann’s role as the story-teller is going to be that of relevance
optimization: She will need to provide John with the optimal ratio of contextual
effect and processing effort. This, I would like to claim, is exactly the generalized
communicative function which newspaper headlines are supposed to fulfill: They are
designed to optimize the relevance of their stories for their readers.
4. Newspaper headlines as relevance optimizers
Consider the following story, from the Israeli national newspaper Ma’ariv:
(5) The bodies of John Kennedy Jr., his wife Caroline and his sister-in-law
Lorraine were discovered yesterday in the ocean, at a depth of 30 meters, 10
kilometers away from Martha’s Vineyard Island, where they were headed on
Saturday. Senator Edward Kennedy, John’s uncle, arrived at the site where the
bodies were found, in order to identify them. Kennedy Jr. will be buried in NY
in the coming days.
This news item requires a certain amount of mental effort to interpret. To begin
with, the paragraph requires some effort to read: It consists of about 70 words, and
is grammatically fairly complex. Moreover, the news item requires the construction
of a context for interpretation- one which includes whatever the reader knows about
John Kennedy Jr., his family, their disappearance two days before, the relevant
geography, and probably at least something about the Kennedys’ history. As we
have said before, the construction of this context takes an additional effort. Let us
assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the interpretation of the entire story will
require the ordinary reader to invest a certain amount of effort, let us dub it
E(story). Now, to the extent that the reader manages to construct the appropriate
context and read the passage, the story carries a certain amount of contextual
effects: It changes a lot of factual assumptions the reader represented in his or her
long-term memory (e.g., the assumption ‘John Kennedy Jr. is alive and well’ is
replaced by ‘John Kennedy Jr. died in an airplane accident’), and it changes, weak-
ens or strengthens a great many related assumptions having to do with, for example,
the inescapable tragedies of the Kennedy family, the life-styles of the rich and
704 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
famous, the blindness of fate, the risks involved in flying your own plane, and so on
and so forth. Obviously, different readers will probably deduce different sets of
contextual effects from the story, but for the sake of simplicity, let us assume that
the ordinary reader will deduce a certain amount of contextual effects, let us dub it
C(story). The relevance of the story for the ordinary reader will thus be:
Now, let us take a look at the headline the newspaper gave to the story:
(6) John Kennedy Jr.’s body found
How much effort does the reader have to invest in interpreting the headline?
Obviously, much less than E(story): The headline is a single, short and simple sen-
tence, comprising five words, and the effort needed to read it is insubstantial. The
effort needed to construct the context for the interpretation of the headline is also
significantly smaller—the reader does not need to retrieve the sets of assumptions
having to do with the geography of the story, with Senator Ed Kennedy, and so on.
For the sake of simplicity, let us make the arbitrary assumption that E(headline)
equals 10% of E(story).
Now, how many contextual effects can the reader deduce from the headline? Sur-
prisingly, when the headline is interpreted in its reduced context, a significantly large
subset of the contextual effects of the entire story survive. Obviously, some things
are missing—for example, the fact that Kennedy’s wife and his sister-in-law were
found too—but Kennedy’s death, its significance within the tragic history of the
Kennedy family, and the more general implications of the story are clear contextual
effects of the headline. Let us adopt a conservative estimate: For the ordinary
reader, C(headline) equals 50% of C(story). As a simple calculation clearly shows,
our estimates entail that the headline multiplies the relevance of the story by five (!).
It saves much more on the processing effort than it loses on the contextual effects.
This is exactly what a headline should do. A short and simple text, it optimizes the
relevance of the story by minimizing processing effort while making sure that a suf-
ficient amount of contextual effects are deducible within the most appropriate con-
text possible. Just like Ann, our story-teller, the headline does not adopt an all-or-
none strategy of either reducing processing effort to zero, or maximizing new infor-
mation, or constructing the most appropriate context for interpretation. Rather, it
attempts to optimize the ratio between processing effort and contextual effects- and
thus optimally negotiate between the story and the ordinary reader.
Note that for the optimization of relevance to be successful, the right material
should be chosen for the headline. Consider, for example, the following three clauses
as alternative headlines for the Kennedy story:
(7) a. Caroline Kennedy’s body found
b. Sen. Edward Kennedy arrived at the crash site.
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 705
c. The bodies of John Kennedy Jr. and his wife Caroline were discovered
yesterday in the ocean, near Martha’s Vineyard Island.
The first two alternative headlines (7a and 7b) are probably as easy to read as the
actual one, and we may assume that they require the construction of a very similar
context for interpretation. However, they do not carry the same amount of con-
textual effects as the original. The third alternative (7c) carries a slightly larger
number of contextual effects than the original, but it very obviously requires much
more processing effort. Thus, all three alternative fall short of providing optimal
Is the original headline in (6) a summarizing or a highlighting headline? It is hard
to tell. The important point, however, is that from our theoretical point-of-view the
summarizing-highlighting distinction is simply not that crucial: Summarizing the
story is just one tactical approach to relevance optimization. Highlighting the most
intriguing aspect of the story, or reproducing the most interesting statement quoted
in the story, may have the very same result. It may turn out, for example, that the
quotation or the highlighted aspect carry more contextual effects than the summary
of the whole narrative. In this case, the rational thing to do would be to promote
them to the headline- and thus optimize the relevance of the story for the readers.
The choice between these different tactical approaches is in part a matter of the
editorial style of the newspaper, and to a very large extent a matter of the experience
and creativity of its editors. For every given story, some headline options are going
to suggest themselves. The editor may opt for a summarizing headline, a high-
lighting headline or a quotation headline- depending on which type of headline will
provide optimal relevance.
Moreover, the editor may manipulate the length and
complexity of the headline, and its specific contents. And again, these manipu-
lations, to a very large extent, are going to be relevance-oriented.
In the following section, I will present the results of an empirical study conducted
in the years 1996–1998 in the news-desk of the Israeli national newspaper Ma’ariv.
In the study, I followed the decision-making process leading to the choice of head-
line for a large number of news items. As the results of the study clearly indicate, the
set of professional intuitions shared by the editors, concerning the properties of the
‘right’ or ‘appropriate’ headline, are theoretically reduced to our notion of rele-
I will discuss the choice of tabloid-type headlines later on.
An anonymous referee notes that some text manipulations may not be relevance-oriented. Thus, for
example, some manipulations may have to do with spacing on the page, and others with political con-
siderations. I agree with the first point. In Dor (2001), however, I show that relevance-oriented manipu-
lations play an extremely important role in processes of political framing.
There are currently three national newspapers in Israel: Yediot Ahronot and Ma’ariv are considered
to be the popular newspapers, whereas Ha’aretz is considered to be the quality, high-brow one. Yediot
Ahronot and Ma’ariv, however, are not tabloids in the regular, American-European sense. They contain a
variety of ‘‘serious’’ news items which is not that different from that of Ha’aretz, and are distinct from it
especially in writing style and graphic design. In all three newspapers, headline formulation is considered
part of the editorial process, and reporters do not formulate headlines for their stories.
706 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
vance: The most appropriate headline for a news item is the one which optimizes the
relevance of the story for the readers of the newspaper.
5. The notion of relevance and the art of headline writing
In general, news editors do not work with a very explicit definition of what head-
lines are, or of their communicative functions. What they do work with is a cluster
of professional intuitions—gradually developed ‘in the field’, and never seriously
explicated—concerning the properties of what we might call, rather informally, the
‘right’, ‘appropriate’, or ‘good’ headline. When asked to provide an explicit defini-
tion of what a headline is, senior newspaper editors usually give an answer of the
type: ‘I don’t know what headlines are, but I can tell a good one when I see it’. This
answer is actually a pretty accurate rendition of a very fundamental sentiment:
Professional knowledge is practical, not theoretical. However, when presented with
a news-item, and asked to choose a headline out of a set of alternatives, experienced
news editors do so with extreme ease and efficiency. Moreover, senior editors in the
same newspaper have a very high rate of agreement on the preferred headline. This
means that experienced news editors know a great deal more about the functional
properties of headlines than they ever explicate. In this sense, headline production is
more similar to an artistic activity than, say, to the practice of an exact science.
This affinity with the arts is very clearly reflected in the trial-and-error process
which beginning copy-editors go through as part of their on-the-job training proce-
dure. Rather than receive their professional education in the form of explicit lectur-
ing, beginning copy-editors in Ma’ariv simply start out working: They are assigned a
new-item, and are asked to rewrite it and suggest a headline for it. The result is then
reviewed by the senior editor in charge, who, in most cases, rejects the suggested
headline and writes a different one, which eventually gets published. Sometimes, the
copy-editor is asked to suggest the alternative headline, which is, again, reviewed by
the editor in charge. Deadline pressure usually does not allow for long explanations:
When the process is over, the copy-editor gets another story, suggests a headline,
which usually gets rejected, and so on and so forth. This process goes on for years,
and in a real sense never ends: In Ma’ariv, each and every suggested headline is sent
to the senior editor in chief, in the form of an electronic message, to be approved or
rejected, even if the copy-editors have years of experience behind them. Obviously,
the rate of rejected headlines goes down with time, when the trained editor inter-
nalizes the set of implicit intuitions shared by the other, more experienced editors,
but even very experienced editors get some of their headlines rejected some of the
time: Sometimes, for example, the editor in chief knows something about the wider
context of the story which the copy-editor was not aware of.
The fact that these real-time negotiations about the headlines are done in writing,
by e-mail messages, allowed me to follow the process of headline formulation from
very close range. I collected 134 e-mail exchanges, concerning 134 news-items, and
analyzed the semantic-pragmatic differences between the rejected and approved
headlines. In some cases, I asked the editor in charge to reconstruct the reasons for
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 707
the rejection of the suggested headline. I then extracted a list of ten properties, which
I shall call the properties of the appropriate headline. I submit that this list is an
accurate rendition of the set of implicit intuitions shared by experienced news editors
in Ma’ariv. In the following section, I will present the ten properties, each with its
representative example, and show that the list is actually reducible to one professional
meta-imperative: Make the headline such that it renders the story optimally-relevant.
Three notes should be made at this point: First, the following discussion should
not be thought of as an attempt to construct a theoretical framework, but as a
description of a set of professional intuitions, shared by news editors, concerning the
properties of the ‘‘appropriate headline’’. In other words, I do not intend to make
any significant claim concerning the theoretical status of the ten properties to be
discussed below. Quite obviously, some of the properties seem to bear close resem-
blance to some principles discussed in the literature under the rubric of news value
(e.g., in Galtung and Ruge, 1965; Bell, 1991); other properties may remind the
reader of Grice’s conversational maxims. I will leave the elaboration of these
resemblances for further research, and concentrate on the possibility of reducing the
entire set of properties to the relevance-based meta-intuition mentioned above.
Second, the properties are to be thought of as default conditions, rather than obli-
gatory ones. It is not the case that every headline should have all 10 properties. It is
the case that a headline which meets any of these conditions is better than a headline
which does not, and a headline which meets a larger number of the conditions is
better than a headline which meets a smaller number of them. Thus, for example, the
first property—‘headlines should be as short as possible’—should be read as saying:
other things being equal, a shorter headline is better than a longer one’.
Finally, The headlines presented in the next section are translated from the
Hebrew original. I chose to keep the translation as literally accurate as possible, and
avoided translating the headlines into ‘‘headlinese’’, because Hebrew headlines do
not usually have the telegraphic syntax characteristic of English headlines.
5.1. The properties of the ‘‘appropriate headline’’
[1] ‘‘Headlines should be as short as possible’’. Newspaper headlines are, quite
obviously, very short clauses. The actual length of each particular headline, however, is
a matter of considerable debate and negotiation between senior editors and copy edi-
tors: Copy-editors, especially the beginners, suggest longer headlines, attempting to
‘capture’ as much of the story as possible. The senior editors shorten the headlines to a
considerable extent- leaving out whole chunks of information. One of the expertises
mastered by experienced editors is the ability to decide which parts of the story should
be left out of the headline. The following exchange is a very typical example. The
I thank an anonymous referee for his/her discussion of this point. The referee also wondered whether
any of the ten properties may be reducible to another. Thus, for example, the referee felt that properties
[6] and [7] are mirror-images of each other, and should thus be put together. I assume that this can indeed
be done. For me, however, the more important point was that the editors I talked to felt these were two
separate, although obviously related, principles. As I am interested here in the description of intuitions,
rather than in the construction of a theoretical framework, I will discuss the two principles separately.
708 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
story is about a youth gang which was caught red-handed mutilating gravestones in a
military cemetery in Haifa. The copy-editor suggested the following headline:
(8) Haifa: A youth gang
was caught mutilating
gravestones in the
city’s military cemetery
The head of the news-desk ordered the copy-editor to shorten the headline, in the
following way:
(9) Haifa: A youth gang was
caught mutilating gravestones
Note that the decision to shorten the headline is not without its price: We have
lost a piece of information, i.e., that the gravestones were mutilated in a military
cemetery, which means we have lost some contextual effects. We have, however,
gained in reading effort. The shorter headline is simply easier to read. This is a very
clear example of relevance optimization by effort reduction. The editor in charge
decided that the loss in contextual effects is smaller than the gain in reading effort.
[2] ‘‘Headlines should be clear, easy to understand, and unambiguous’’. For-
mulating a headline to a complex story is not an easy task. Copy-editors sometimes
suggest headlines which come out unclear, difficult to understand, or unintentionally
ambiguous. Such headlines are rejected, and the copy-editor is asked to formulate a
clearer, simpler, unambiguous headline. In the following example, the article tells
the story of a police drama in the city of Ramat-Gan, where a single arsonist
threatened the city for weeks, burning down vehicles every night. On that specific
night, the police caught a suspect, but had to release him after the ‘real’ arsonist
took out to the streets again, burning down more vehicles to prove that he was not
caught. The copy-editor suggested the following headline:
(10) The ‘real arsonist’ from Ramat-Gan
proves: You Haven’t caught me
The headline was rejected because it was considered unclear and unnecessarily
ambiguous. It raises more questions and vaguenesses than it actually answers: Who
is the ‘real arsonist’? Is there an ‘unreal arsonist’? How has the ‘real arsonist’ proven
that he wasn’t caught? By whom? The copy-editor was ordered to formulate a
clearer headline. This was his second attempt:
(11) The arsonist ‘was caught’- and the
vehicles in Ramat-Gan went on burning
This version is much clearer: It makes clear that a claim was made that the arso-
nist was caught, which turned out to be false, and it makes clear that, on that day,
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 709
after the capture incident ended, some vehicles in Ramat-Gan were still burning.
There is, however, a potential ambiguity here: The headline can be read as making
the claim that the arsonist set the vehicles on fire before the police made the false
claim, and that they went on burning after the incident. The headline was rejected
again, and the copy-editor suggested the third version, in (12), which was finally
accepted and published as it is. Note that the only difference between (11), the rejected
headline, and (12), the approved one, is in the tense of the verb in the second clause.
(12) The arsonist ‘was caught’- and the
vehicles in Ramat-Gan go on burning
This headline makes it clear that the arsonist is still on the loose, and is still in the
habit of setting vehicles on fire. Finally, the story is captured in a clear, simple and
unambiguous fashion. This reduces processing effort to the necessary minimum—
and optimizes the relevance of the story.
[3] ‘‘Headlines should be interesting’’. This quality plays a central role in the
negotiations between copy-editors and senior editors. Many suggested headlines are
rejected on the grounds that they are ‘not interesting’. What is usually meant by this
rather obscure phrase is that the editor imagines that the readers of the paper will
not find the headline interesting enough. In terms of our relevance-based theory, this
means that the editor estimates that the amount of contextual effects carried by the
headline will not justify the amount of reading effort. The copy-editor is then asked
to read the article again, and look for a ‘more interesting’ piece of information to
foreground to the headline. In the following example, the story includes an interview
with Uri Lubrani, IDF’s Chief of Military Operations in Southern Lebanon. Gen-
eral Antoin Lahed, who is mentioned in the rejected headline, is the Commander in
Chief of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a Christian Militia which has traditionally
been IDF’s ally in Lebanon. The context of the story is a wave of rumors, according
to which the IDF plans to withdraw from Southern Lebanon, thus leaving General
Lahed and his people on their own against their Islamic rivals:
This is the headline which the copy-editor suggested:
(13) Lubrani: ‘There was no secret
meeting with General Lahed’
Whether or not there was a secret meeting between IDF officials and General Lahed
on the previous day is hardly an interesting question. After all, IDF officials and
General Lahed meet on a regular basis, and their meetings are usually kept secret. In
our terms, the headline does not carry a substantial amount of contextual effects. The
headline was rejected, and the copy-editor came up with the following alternative:
(14) Lubrani: ‘There is no plan to
evacuate SLA seniors to Europe’
Whether or not there is a secret plan to evacuate SLA seniors to Europe is very
obviously much more interesting. If there was such a plan, this would be a pretty
710 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
remarkable sign that the IDF is on its way out of Lebanon. Lubrani’s flat denial can
be interpreted in more than one way: We can take him for his word, or assume that
he chose to deny the existence of the plan for tactical reasons- at any rate the denial
has interesting implications. It is definitely more interesting than just another meet-
ing- in our terms, it carries more contextual effects for the same amount of proces-
sing effort. Note that this is a very good example of the significant role of headline
writing in the workings of a newspaper. The two headlines, the rejected one and the
suggested one, make it quite obvious that the Lubrani interview did not contain any
remarkable scoops, and that the editor had to dig in to find something which was
worth promoting to the headline. As the senior editor’s decision makes clear, even
negative statements, flat denials of the type that Lubrani suggested as answers to the
reporter’s questions, have different amounts of relevance, and the one which was
more relevant than the other was promoted.
[4] ‘‘Headlines should contain new information’’. A major topic for negotiations
between copy-editors and senior-editors has to do with the question of whether the
readers already know what the copy-editor decided to promote to the headline.
Obviously, editors do not really know what their readers know, but their estimates
of their readers’ state of knowledge play a central role in the decision-making pro-
cess. This makes perfect sense within our relevance-based framework: A headline
which does not contain novel assumptions cannot bring about contextual effects,
and is thus irrelevant. In Ma’ariv, as in any other daily newspaper, estimates of the
readers’ state of knowledge are based primarily on what has already been commu-
nicated by the other mass-media, especially the evening news on TV. If the content
of the proposed headline for the next morning has already appeared in the news the
night before, most chances are it will be rejected. The following headline, for exam-
ple, was rejected on these grounds:
(15) The Austrian Chancellor
Arrived for a visit; will
meet Netanyahu today
The copy-editor had a hard time finding an alternative headline. This is what he
came up with:
(16) Officials in Jerusalem hope
for the Austrian Chancellor’s
visit to run smoothly
This headline was accepted, for two reasons: First, it carries the implication that
officials in Jerusalem are worried that the visit might not run smoothly—an angle on
the visit which was new. Second, it connects the story to prior events and expecta-
tions: The visit of the British foreign minister had just ended the day before, and that
visit was full of political hurdles and diplomatic embarrassments. As we shall see
below, connecting a story to its wider context is another important property of good
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 711
[5] ‘‘Headlines should not presuppose information unknown to the readers’’. This
principle, in a sense, is the mirror-image of the previous one: The information in the
headline should definitely be new—but it cannot be ‘overly new’. Headlines should
only presuppose information which is already part of the mutual knowledge estab-
lished between the newspaper and its readers. In terms of our relevance-based fra-
mework, every presupposition in the headline should already be available within the
readers’ context of interpretation. Otherwise, the computation of the headline will
result in zero contextual effects.
Consider, then, the following headline:
(17) Advanced negotiations on the establishment
of the second Israeli-owned casino in Jericho
This headline presupposes the existence, or at least the potential existence, of the
first Israeli-owned casino in Jericho. The first news concerning the plans to build this
casino, the first one, were published only a few days before the above headline was
suggested. According to the editor in chief, the readers had not yet registered the
future existence of the first casino in their long-term memory—it was premature to
treat it as a presupposition. The copy-editor was asked to change the headline, and
came up with the following alternative:
(18) The first casino in Jericho
will be operational in February
In this headline, the establishment of the first casino in Jericho is not presupposed,
but reported as part of the news. This is much better. But the editor in chief asked
the copy-editor to rephrase the headline again, this time for a different reason: The
proposed headline forces the reader to calculate the amount of time it will take till the
casino will be operational. This adds to the processing effort. The alternative, which was
eventually published, reduces this effort, thus optimizing the relevance of the story:
(19) The first casino in Jericho
will be operational in a year
[6] ‘‘Headlines should include names and concepts with high ‘news value’ for the
Experienced editors develop a sense of the ‘news value’ of names and
This property, and the next one, reminded one anonymous referee of Ariel’s (1988, 1991) accessibility
theory (see also Kronrod and Engel 2000). The resemblance, however, is rather superficial. Ariel is not
interested in the specific contents of the referring expressions, but in their general cognitive and structural
properties. Thus, for example, referring expressions which function as high accessibility markers (e.g.,
personal pronouns, first names) are used by speakers when they assume that the referents are highly
accessible for their addressees; lower accessibility markers (e.g., long definite descriptions, full names etc.)
are used when the speaker assumes low mental accessibility for their addressees. The point I am making
here, however, is not that newspaper editors prefer certain types of referring expression (e.g., full names)
to others (e.g., last names), but that they prefer certain referents (e.g., famous figures) to others.
712 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
concepts: They very easily identify names and concepts which should appear in
headlines- and those which do not. In terms of our relevance-based theory, experi-
enced editors know, or at least believe they know, which names and concepts will
carry a large number of contextual effects for their readers. The following example
demonstrates this very clearly. Some background: Two days before the following
story was to be published, a story in one of the national newspapers revealed that
the popular musicians contracted to perform in Israel’s 50
Jubilee were paid high
sums of money- at the tax-payers’ expense. In our story, some other popular musi-
cians reacted to the revelation and angrily declared that they were willing to perform
in the Jubilee for free. This was the headline suggested by the copy-editor:
(20) A group of artists suggests
an alternative for the Jubilee:
‘‘we are willing to perform for free’’
This headline, a classic summarizing headline, was rejected in favor of the fol-
lowing, which replaces the expression ‘a group of artists’ with the names of two
celebrity musicians, Shimi Tavori and Margalit Tsan’ani:
(21) Shimi Tavori and Margalit
Tsan’ani: ‘‘we are willing to
perform in the jubilee for free’’
Note, first, that the replacement headline in (21) actually loses some of the infor-
mation we had in (20): The group of artists included many more musicians than just
the two mentioned in (21). The point, however, is that the two are the most famous
members of the group, and names of well-known popular musicians always carry a
lot of contextual effects: This is so, because their names direct the readers to con-
struct a much wider context for interpretation, which includes whatever we know
about them, their personalities, their views, their social background, their wealth,
their life styles, and so on. (20) is a headline suited for a regular news story about the
Jubilee; (21), on the other hand, is a headline for what is basically a gossip story
about Shimi Tavori and Margalit Tsan’ani.
[7] ‘‘Headlines should not contain names and concepts with low ‘news value’ for
the readers’’. This is the mirror-image of the last property: Some names and con-
cepts do not have ‘‘news value’’ for the readers, and experienced editors avoid pro-
moting them to the headline. In our terms, these names and concepts do not help the
reader construct the optimal context for the interpretation of the headline. In the
following example, the copy-editor attempted to promote such a name to the head-
line, and was intercepted by the editor in charge. Some background: The story has
to do with an accident in which two military helicopters collided in the air on their
way to Israel’s northern border, an accident in which more than 70 soldiers were
killed. New immigrants to Israel receive an immigration grant from the Jewish
agency, and it turned out that the agency asked the parents of one of the soldiers
killed in the accident, a newly-arrived immigrant, to pay back his grant. The copy
editor suggested the following headline:
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 713
(22) The Michaelov family was ordered
to return the immigration grant given
to their son- who was killed in the Galilee
The editor in charge rejected the headline, and ordered the copy-editor to produce
another one, which would not contain the name. This was the alternative headline,
which was finally published:
(23) The Jewish agency refused to let
a family, whose son was killed in the
helicopter accident, keep his immigration grant
Note that the move from the definite ‘the Michaelov family’ to the indefinite ‘a
family’ made it difficult for the copy-editor to keep it in subject position, and dic-
tated an overall grammatical change from passive to active voice.
[8] ‘‘Headlines should ‘connect’ the story to previously known facts and events’’.
Just like the last two principles, this one has to do with the construction of the
appropriate context for interpretation. A story interpreted on its own, as an isolated
event, will carry a certain amount of contextual effects. The same story can carry
more contextual effects to the extent that the readers interprets it within a wider
context, which includes previously known facts and events. Consider the following
example, which is a report on a violent taxi robbery in the city of Haifa:
(24) The driver was beaten
and thrown out- and
the stolen taxi was later
found stuck in the mud
The editor in charge, who rejected this headline, asked the copy-editor to connect
the incident in Haifa to the rising trend of taxi robbery throughout Israel. The fol-
lowing headline, which connects the specific incident in Haifa to the new criminal
pattern, directs the reader to construct a context for interpretation which includes the
former robberies, and promises to carry more contextual effects in this wider context:
(25) Another taxi robbery:
A driver from Haifa was
attacked and thrown out
of the vehicle
[9] ‘‘Headlines should ‘connect the story’ to prior expectations and assumptions’’.
Just as headlines have to connect the story to previously known facts and events,
they have to connect the story to non-factual mental representations, i.e., prior
expectations and assumptions which the readers may have with respect to the rele-
vant topic. To the extent that the headline manages to do that, it helps the readers
construct a context for interpretation in which more contextual effects will be
714 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
deduced. The following example needs no background: It has to do with one of the
stages of the Lewinsky affair. This is the headline suggested by the copy-editor:
(26) Clinton plans to admit that
he kissed Monica Lewinsky
The editor in charge rejected the headline, and asked the copy-editor to suggest a
headline which connects the story to the common assumptions and expectations which
readers at that time had with respect to the story: The really important question was
whether Clinton was about to admit to intercourse, not to kisses, with Lewinsky, and
the assumption was that such a move on Clinton’s behalf would constitute a very dra-
matic turning point in the whole affair, potentially leading to Clinton’s impeachment.
Connecting the story to this set of assumptions and expectations helps the reader to
construct a more appropriate context for interpretation, and thus deduce a larger
number of contextual effects. This is the headline which was finally published:
(27) Clinton plans to admit to
kisses- not to intercourse
Note that this headline does not contain any additional positive information: It
merely explicates what the reader may have figured out from (26) by implicature. What
it does do is position the story within its proper context, thus optimizing its relevance.
[10] ‘‘Headlines should ‘frame’ the story in an appropriate fashion’’. Many of the
negotiations between senior editors and copy-editors have to do with the proper
framing of the story. The characteristic question is: What kind of story is this? Is
this, for example, a politics-oriented story, a human interest story, an entertainment
story? As everybody who has ever worked with journalistic materials knows, the
answer to these questions does not lie in the objective world, but in the construction
of the story by its writer and editor. The following example has to do with the heli-
copter accident mentioned above. The copyeditor initially framed the story as a
military-oriented story:
(28) The defense ministry decided:
The word ‘disaster’ will not be
written on the gravestones of
the victims of the helicopter accident
The editor in charge rejected this headline and asked the copy-editor to frame the
story as a human interest one. According to the senior editor, framing the story as a
human interest story would make it ‘more interesting’—in our terms, it would help
the reader construct a context for interpretation where the story would carry more con-
textual effects for the same processing effort. This is what the copy-editor came up with:
(29) The parents’ request was denied:
The word ‘disaster’ will not be
written on the gravestones of
the victims of the helicopter accident
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 715
To sum up: The above list of properties constitutes an accurate rendition of the set
of implicit professional imperatives shared by senior editors in Ma’ariv. As we have
seen, each of these properties is reducible to a relevance-oriented strategy. Headlines
can optimize relevance by requiring the minimal amount of processing effort-by
being short, clear, unambiguous and easy to read. Headlines can optimize relevance
by carrying the maximal amount of contextual effects- by being interesting and new.
Headlines can optimize relevance by making sure the readers construct the right
context for interpretation, and by making sure that their content is compatible with
that context—by avoiding unknown presuppositions, by containing names and
concepts with a high ‘news value’, by avoiding names and concepts with low ‘news
value’, by connecting the story to previously known facts and prior expectations, and
by framing the story in the proper fashion. As we have seen, headlines do not meet
these criteria all at once. The art of headline production consists of formulating the
headline which meets the maximal number of the above conditions, thus providing
the reader with the optimal ratio between contextual effect and processing effort.
6. The strategy of tabloid headlines
From the point of view developed in this paper, tabloid headlines are not that differ-
ent from the regular headlines which we find in more ‘respectable’ newspapers. Tabloid
headlines simply take one relevance-optimization strategy, which we have already
looked at, to its logical extreme. As we have seen before, headlines may produce more
contextual effects by directing the reader to the appropriate context of interpretation.
This is sometimes done at the expense of new information. In (25), for example, the fact
that the stolen taxi was later on found stuck in the mud was demoted from the headline,
and the expression ‘another taxi robbery’ was added, in order to instruct the reader to
retrieve information from long-term memory concerning previous taxi robberies- thus
constructing the optimal context for interpretation. Tabloid headlines can be
thought of as adopting this strategy all across the board: Keep your processing
effort and your new information to the minimum, and optimize relevance by max-
imizing the context of interpretation. This is actually a theoretical re-interpretation
of Lindemann’s formulations: Tabloid headlines are not very informative, but they
very efficiently trigger frames and belief systems in the reader’s mind;they evoke
images and scenarios in the reader. Let us look at some of Lindemann’s examples:
(30) a. NO-LA-LA! The Frogs Get Bored with Bed
b. ‘Dirt’ at Posh Noshery
c. Boy’s Whisky Hell
d. Space Ape Makes A Monkey Out of Moscow
The first thing to note is that although these headlines are relatively unin-
formative, none of them is completely devoid of new information: (30a) reveals that
the French are becoming bored with sex; (30b) says that something dirty was dis-
covered in an exclusive restaurant; (30c) informs that some boy went through an
716 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
ordeal involving whisky; and (30d) asserts that a space ape drove Moscow crazy.
These new pieces of information may not have a very clear designation, and we may
be left with a lot of unresolved questions—which restaurant? What dirt? Which
ordeal? What is a space ape anyway?—but we nevertheless get a minimal amount of
new information out of each of these headlines.
The second and crucial point is that each of these headlines very efficiently
instructs the reader to construct an extremely rich context for interpretation- a
context full of cliches and prejudices, and feelings of fear, passion and hatred- in
which even the informationally-dull headlines carry more contextual effects than a
lot of informationally-rich headlines in the more respectable newspapers. Consider
the headline in (30b). As its story reveals, a top restaurant in London faced allega-
tions of breaching hygiene regulations. In a regular newspaper, the same story
would probably be published under a headline like ‘Top Restaurant Faces Hygiene
Allegations’. This headline is slightly more informative than (30b), but it does not
get anywhere close to the amount of contextual effects produced by (30b). The
tabloid headline very efficiently raises in the readers’ minds a complex set of notions-
vivid images of dirt and filth, feelings of envious contempt towards the rich people
who can afford to eat in fancy restaurants, and so on and so forth- which then
constitute the context for the interpretation of the headline. In this context, the
slight information in the headline carries a great deal of contextual effects: The story
is no longer that of the specific restaurant in London, but a generalized story
‘‘revealing’’ the ‘‘real’’ dirt behind the ‘‘facade’’ of expensive cuisine and the life-style
of the rich and famous. The same is true for the other headlines as well: (30a), as we
have already seen, raises a context consisting of a mixture of sexual frustration and
hatred and contempt towards the French. (30c) raises a context for interpretation
consisting of all the generalized fears involving children, alcohol and violence, and
thus carries a large set of contextual effects: The headline translates a story about one
specific child into a story about children in general and their fragile existence—and
the context constructed by the readers’ obviously includes their own children. (30d)
makes use of the mixture of fear and contempt towards the Soviet Union, and ridi-
cules it with a clever combination of reality and metaphor. The contextual effects,
again, go well beyond the fact that the specific monkey sent to space by the Soviets
was interfering with the space mission; the tabloid headline is now about the
‘‘incompetence’’ of the fearful Soviet Union, a whole super-power ridiculed by a sin-
gle monkey.
7. Do headlines really attract readers to their stories?
As we have seen in section 2, it has been claimed in the literature that newspaper
headlines have an additional function, which goes beyond the strict semantic-refer-
ential function, namely to ‘‘attract the attention of the reader and provoke the
reader to read the whole story’’ (Nir, 1993). In this section, I will discuss this func-
tion, and claim that it is better characterized as a relevance-based selection mechan-
ism, which rather than indiscriminately ‘attract’ all readers to all the stories in the
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 717
newspaper, serves to direct individual readers to the subset of stories which would
carry the optimal relevance for them.
The empirical starting point for this discussion is the rather obvious fact that
readers do not always read news items beyond the headline. On the contrary, most
readers spend most of their reading time scanning the headlines than reading the
stories. As Nir (1993) notes, ‘‘for the modern newspaper reader, reading the headline
of a news item replaces the reading of the whole story’’ (p. 24). If we stick to the
above definition of headlines as ‘attracting devices’, we are forced to conclude that
most headlines fail in fulfilling their function- a rather unintuitive conclusion to say
the least: If that was indeed the case, the headline would not survive the dynamic
evolution in the design of the modern newspaper. A much more reasonable
assumption is that the characteristic reading pattern manifested by scanning readers
is exactly what the headline is supposed to achieve. Let us see why this is the case:
The major claim made in this paper has been that headlines are relevance-optimi-
zers. This characterization of the headline means that an ordinary reader who has
finished reading a headline has already received the optimal amount of relevance for
its story. This means that reading beyond the headline, through the whole text,
would actually amount to a process of gradual reduction of the relevance of the story
for the reader. Think about the Kennedy story we have looked at before. The first
sentence of the story—The bodies of John Kennedy Jr., his wife Caroline and his sis-
ter-in-law Lorraine were discovered yesterday in the ocean, at a depth of 30 meters, 10
kilometers away from Martha’s Vineyard island, where they were headed on Satur-
day— adds considerably to the processing effort, and adds some new information.
The crucial point, however, is that the additional amount of new information does
not necessarily add a sufficient amount of contextual effects to make it worth the
ordinary reader’s while to go through the interpretation process. The fact that the
bodies where found at a depth of 30 meters, for example, would probably have no
real contextual effect for the ordinary reader. The second and third sentences-
Senator Edward Kennedy, John’s uncle, arrived at the site where the bodies were
found, in order to identify them. Kennedy Jr. will be buried in NY in the coming days-
add to the processing effort, but have a meager contextual effect. All this means is
that the reader who decides to read the headline—John Kennedy Jr.’s body found—
and move on to the next headline, rather than delve into the story, makes a perfectly
rational decision, and actually gets the best (informational) value for (cognitive)
money possible. The selection of the best headline for a story is thus not supposed to
make the ordinary reader go on reading the story, but to insure that the reader has
indeed received the best ‘deal’ in reading the headline itself.
Does that mean that readers who nevertheless go on reading the whole story make
an irrational decision? Obviously not. According to our relevance-based conception,
we should expect two types of readers to go on reading the story beyond the head-
line- and still be rational in doing it. First, a fair number of readers may have a good
reason to expect to receive more contextual effects from the story than the ordinary
reader. Among these, we should find, for example, Kennedy aficionados, celebrity
enthusiasts or aviation experts. Note that in regular speech, we would simply say
that these specific readers have a special interest in the story. In relevance-theory
718 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
jargon, we say that the cognitive context which they construct for the interpretation
of the story allows for the deduction of more contextual effects for the same amount
of processing effort. If an individual reader already knows a lot about Caroline
Kennedy, for example, it would make sense for him or her to go on reading through
the story, because her death would carry a significant amount of contextual effects for
that reader. In this sense, the headline serves as a selection-device for the readers,
directing each individual reader to those specific stories which may justify the invest-
ment of additional cognitive effort in providing additional contextual dividends.
The second type of readers who would probably go on reading the story to the end
are those who would be willing to put in the extra effort even if the contextual effects
would not justify that. Among those, we should find the avid readers- who enjoy
spending time reading a newspaper regardless of the specific contents of the stories. In
terms of relevance-theory, those readers have a different cognitive style than the ordin-
ary reader- the threshold theyset for the ratio between contextual effects and processing
effort is lower than that of the ordinary reader. Note that cognitive styles form a con-
tinuum: Some people, for example, may find the computation of the same con-
textual effect more intellectually demanding than others; for those, the relevance of
any new assumption will be reduced in proportion to their processing effort. Speci-
fically, other things being equal, proficient readers will find more news stories to be
relevant than less-proficient ones. Moreover, some people may be generally more cur-
ious, interested or cognitively-energetic than others; they will be willing to spend more
energy for the computation of the same contextual effect. Other things being equal,
these people will be willing to spend more energy on the same news story than the oth-
ers, regardless of the amount of contextual effects carried by the story. This continuum
of cognitive styles plays a significant role in editorial policies: For example, ‘quality’
newspapers regularly assume that their readers are more proficient, cognitively-ener-
getic and curious than ‘popular’ newspapers take their readers to be. This explains, for
example, the fact that headlines in ‘quality’ newspapers are, statistically speaking,
longer, more complex and more difficult to read than headlines in ‘popular’ news-
papers. Note, moreover, that in those rare cases when we set the threshold for the ratio
between contextual effects to processing effort to zero - headlines lose their functional
role. This happens, for example, when we read every word in an old newspaper in order
to kill time waiting for a flight. In this extreme context the headlines become redundant:
If we make a decision to read the whole newspaper, word by word, we no longer need
the headlines to direct us to those stories which are best suited for our interests.
8. Conclusion
Newspaper readers are flooded on a daily basis with an amount of new informa-
tion which they have neither the time nor the energy to process. Newspaper head-
lines help them get the maximum out of this informational flood—for the minimal
cognitive investment. First, headlines provide the readers with an optimally relevant
presentation of their stories. A good headline is one which helps the reader deduce
the maximal amount of contextual effects for the minimal amount of processing
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 719
effort. Then, they guide individual readers to those specific stories which would be
worth their while to read in the full version. Thus, the reading patterns manifested
by newspaper readers are exactly what we should expect: Readers regularly scan the
headlines, and only occasionally stop to read the actual story. As relevance-optimi-
zers and relevance-based selection-devices, headlines function as negotiators between
stories and readers. As we have seen, producing the appropriate headline for a story
is a complex task exactly because the headline is neither a semantic summary of the
story nor a pragmatic attracting-device for the reader, but a communicative device
whose function is to produce the optimal level of affinity between the content of the
story and the reader’s context of interpretation, in order to render the story opti-
mally relevant for the reader. As the analysis of headline production in Ma’ariv
clearly shows, this delicate process involves the constant juggling of a large number
of different, and sometimes contradictory, communicative imperatives.
As we have seen, our relevance-based conception of newspaper headlines has allowed
us to go beyond the descriptive distinctions between different types of headlines, and
explain their functions as tactical variations on the theme of relevance optimization. It
thus provides for a novel way to conduct comparative analyses of headlines in different
types of newspapers and in different types of cultures of communication. As I have
already suggested, many of the major differences between newspapers may be
attributed to the assumptions made by the editors concerning the set of relevance
considerations shared by their readers—their cognitive styles, their reading proficiency,
their interests, their views, their fears and passions, and so on and so forth. Moreover, it
is an intriguing question, and as far as I can tell, a totally open one, whether different
newspapers are actually successful in predicting the relevance-oriented profiles of their
readers. I would venture to hypothesize that those newspapers which are successful at
that are those which maintain a steady and well-defined readership.
Finally, on a larger scale, the analysis presented in this paper should be thought of as
an exercise in the application of universalistic, psychologically-oriented theories to the
explanation of culturally-specific, variable social phenomena. Modern newspaper
headlines are a very late cultural development, yet their functional nature is best char-
acterized using a set of constitutive, cognitive notions which are applicable in principle to
a very wide set of acts of intentional communication. As opposed to some of the current
thinking in the social sciences, the imposition of a universalistic theory on a specific
cultural phenomenon does not automatically entail indifference to the fine-grained
patterns of social variability involved. In our case, for example, the universalistic fra-
mework actually helps us capture the differences and similarities between headlines in
regular and tabloid newspapers in an explanatory, rather than a merely descriptive,
fashion. I take this to be a very encouraging sign that the importation of theoretical
insights from the cognitive domain into the social sciences is a worthwhile endeavor.
I thank two anonymous referees for their helpful and insightful comments on this
720 D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721
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Dr. Daniel Dor teaches at the Dept. of Communication and the Dept. of English, Tel Aviv University. His
research interests include, among other topics, the role of the mass media in the construction of political
hegemony, the linguistic consequences of globalization, and the cultural-biological evolution of language.
D. Dor / Journal of Pragmatics 35 (2003) 695–721 721
... Depending on the available related literature, and as far as the proposal of this study is concerned, the economic consideration and the limited space availability, which orient the functions of news headlines, cannot fully explain the much interest, scrupulous carefulness, and assiduous attention exerted by writers of the news headlines and news papers editors to generate as "successful" headlines as possible; Dor (2003), cited in Majeed & Salih (2012), in this regard, confirm that the idea that "the headline presents a summary of the story is criticized due to three reasons: First, some highlight a single detail of the story or contain a quotation from the story or some headlines contain materials which do not appear in the news item; second, some headlines contain complex riddles especially in tabloid newspapers and. Third headlines have a pragmatic function."; ...
... These semantic weaves and stylistic devices aid writers of the headline in reframing the whole scene in order to set up the boundaries of the intended stance that readers, receivers or "customers" may be led to take. Writers of news headlines, directly or indirectly, depend on accumulative generally-established knowledge to calibrate the target common readers' gender, age, interests, mood, beliefs, tendencies, preferences, expectations, social class, intellect, and nativity; this kind of knowledge is used to enable the writers of the news headline to decide what works to construct a bridge of communication connecting the potential readers' context and mental frame work with the news story or a specific domain of such news story; Dor (2003) confirms this by concluding that the "construction of a successful headline requires an understanding of the readers-their state-of-knowledge, their beliefs and expectations and their cognitive styles-no less than it requires an understanding of the story." Accordingly, it should be stated that the deep knowledge of the semantic weave of a given news headline and the pragmatic magnitude it-semantic weave-is capable of giving birth to, and, in addition, an adequate knowledge of the target readers' variables are essential recipe ingredients for setting up an effective stimulus to the target reader, receiver or "customer" so as to exhibit a desired response that the pragmatic function, of news headlines, reinforces and, somehow, guarantees. ...
... ;Chovanec (2003);Dor (2003),Geer & Kahn (1993); Ifantidou (2009); Van Dijk (1988), cited in Ecker, Lewandowsky, Chang, & Pillai (2014); Dor (2003); Ifantidou (2009); Smith (1999), cited in Shie (2010); Saxena (2006), cited in Lee (2012); Soler (2008), cited in Nazzal (2017); Al Janaby & Abed (2011); Dor (2003), cited in Isani (2011); Majeed & Salih (2012); Bednarek & Caple (2012), cited in Haider & Hussein (2019); Lee (2012); Sherpa (2012); Molek-Kozakowska (2013); Shishkova (2015); Gasparyan (2019); Haider & Olimy (2019), cited in Haider & Hussein (2019); Din & Ghani ...
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... Headlines "play a substantial role in news communication" (Ecker et al., 2014, p. 6). Headlines serve many purposes, such as summarizing the main idea of the news or op-ed article and allow the reader to scan a broad range of articles to pick from and which to read (Dor, 2003;Geer & Kahn, 1993;Ifantidou, 2009;van Dijk, 1988). McCrudden and Schraw (2007) also noted that the headline affects what the reader focuses on or ignores. ...
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... It seems that students are unaware of the specificity of media translation and how news headlines should be translated. Despite the fact that the researcher explained in some detail the characteristics and features of media translation and news headlines (Matheson, 2005;Dor, 2003;Snell-Hornby, 1988), a large number of his students still grappled with media translation and exhibited serious errors in the translation of news headlines. Then, the researcher decided to conduct a small-scale study on the errors made by a sample of Omani students at University of Nizwa in order to identify these errors and spread awareness of them so that they will be avoided by translation students, and other researchers can utilize the findings in their prospective research. ...
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The present study aimed at analyzing the errors made by a sample of Omani undergraduate students in translating English news headlines into Arabic. The study employed one data collection tool which was a short translation test which included 15 English news headlines. The test was administered to 45 third-year students at the Department of Foreign Languages at University of Nizwa in the second semester of the academic year 2022. The examination of the data showed that the errors made by the students were mainly lexical and syntactic, abbreviations, cities and proper adjectives. The rationale for such errors was that the students were unfamiliar with journalistic vocabulary, syntax, abbreviations and transliteration of English cities and proper adjectives. As these errors proved to be serious, the researcher suggested carrying out some large-scale studies to confirm the findings of the study, challenge them or shed more light on other aspects of the topic of the present study.
... According to Sperber and Wilson (1986), headlines are described as the relevance optimizers which means that headlines act as textual negotiators between story and readers 21 . It helps explaining the construction of headlines require understanding of both story and reader's cognitive style; belief, knowledge, expectation 22 . Headlines basically characterized as short summarization of news story which grab the interest of readers based on their emotions and understandings 23 , moreover, make an influential impression on the readers to read that particular article to the end 24'25'26 . ...
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News headlines are designed to present a story in a meaningful way to grab the attention of readers where editor use emotionally charged language as a tool to make the title of story more memorable and responsive. In religious domain, spiritual orientation and attribution to the holiness is often viewed to function influential communication. This research aims to analyze Sufi orientation investigating headlines published in leading national language dailies. We applied qualitative content analysis method in this study to analyze the headlines and used purposive sampling technique to collect the data; for a comprehensive overview, this paper calls attention to the news stories printed on the occasions of death anniversaries of prolific Sufi saints of the region, Punjab, Pakistan, in four leading newspapers, Nawa-i-Waqt, Jang, Express and Khabrain, to contribute to the contemporary studies of religion and press. The study found that editors engaged and encourage readers to want to find out more presenting Sufi as a great preacher and a source of love, peace and divine blessing. This paper argues that in Sufi
... Furthermore, headlines in traditional news media tend not to leave information gaps, but rather, they provide a summary of the associated story. As such, they function as autonomous texts (Dor, 2003;Ifantidou, 2009). Classic clickbait headlines are not autonomous in this way. ...
Classic clickbait headlines often use hyperbolic and formulaic language to create information gaps that arouse the curiosity of readers. Such headlines are stylistically distinct from the headlines we find in traditional news media, and, as such, are easily recognisable as clickbait. However, a new type of clickbait headline has emerged which appears to have more in common stylistically with traditional newspaper headlines. Jodłowiec (2022) identifies and discusses examples of this new type of headline, referring to them as "deceptive clickbait". She uses relevance-theoretic pragmatics to show how these headlines guide the readers to an interpretation which arouses their curiosity. On clicking, however, the readers find the content is mundane and trivial. Although these headlines are deceptive, Jodłowiec concludes that the writer has not lied, and that responsibility sits with the readers. In this article, I argue against these conclusions. I use relevance-theoretic pragmatics to show that the reader is entitled to take the high news value interpretation as the intended interpretation. Responsibility for this lies with the writer. I then consider two characterisations of the distinction between lying and misleading and show that in both cases at least some of the deceptive headlines can be considered to be lies.
... Review ratings and helpfulness are quantitative scores useful in attracting the attention of consumers and offering sufficient information to make a decent first impression (Zhou et al., 2020). The textual content presents a detailed description of the product features and functionalities and should provide cues and explanations for the rating of the review (Dor, 2003). The text of a review and its associated rating should be consistent to provide more value for the customer. ...
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Aim/Purpose: The objective of this research is to investigate the effect of review consistency between textual content and rating on review helpfulness. A measure of review consistency is introduced to determine the degree to which the review sentiment of textual content conforms with the review rating score. A theoretical model grounded in signaling theory is adopted to explore how different variables (review sentiment, review rating, review length, and review rating variance) affect review consistency and the relationship between review consistency and review helpfulness. Background: Online reviews vary in their characteristics and hence their different quality features and degrees of helpfulness. High-quality online reviews offer consumers the ability to make informed purchase decisions and improve trust in e-commerce websites. The helpfulness of online reviews continues to be a focal research issue regardless of the independent or joint effects of different factors. This research posits that the consistency between review content and review rating is an important quality indicator affecting the helpfulness of online reviews. The review consistency of online reviews is another important requirement for maintaining the significance and perceived value of online reviews. Incidentally, this parameter is inadequately discussed in the literature. A possible reason is that review consistency is not a review feature that can be readily monitored on e-commerce websites. Methodology: More than 100,000 product reviews were collected from and preprocessed using natural language processing tools. Then, the quality reviews were identified, and relevant features were extracted for model training. Machine learning and sentiment analysis techniques were implemented, and each review was assigned a consistency score between 0 (not consistent) and 1 (fully consistent). Finally, signaling theory was employed, and the derived data were analyzed to determine the effect of review consistency on review helpfulness, the effect of several factors on review consistency, and their relationship with review helpfulness. Contribution: This research contributes to the literature by introducing a mathematical measure to determine the consistency between the textual content of online reviews and their associated ratings. Furthermore, a theoretical model grounded in signaling theory was developed to investigate the effect on review helpfulness. This work can considerably extend the body of knowledge on the helpfulness of online reviews, with notable implications for research and practice. Findings: Empirical results have shown that review consistency significantly affects the perceived helpfulness of online reviews. The study similarly finds that review rating is an important factor affecting review consistency; it also confirms a moderating effect of review sentiment, review rating, review length, and review rating variance on the relationship between review consistency and review helpfulness. Overall, the findings reveal the following: (1) online reviews with textual content that correctly explains the associated rating tend to be more helpful; (2) reviews with extreme ratings are more likely to be consistent with their textual content; and (3) comparatively, review consistency more strongly affects the helpfulness of reviews with short textual content, positive polarity textual content, and lower rating scores and variance. Recommendations for Practitioners: E-commerce systems should incorporate a review consistency measure to rank consumer reviews and provide customers with quick and accurate access to the most helpful reviews. Impact on Society: Incorporating a score of review consistency for online reviews can help consumers access the best reviews and make better purchase decisions, and e-commerce systems improve their business, ultimately leading to more effective e-commerce. Future Research: Additional research should be conducted to test the impact of review consistency on helpfulness in different datasets, product types, and different moderating variables.
Supreme Court Justices Thomas, in 1991, and Kavanaugh, in 2018, were accused of sexual violence by Anita Hill and Christine Ford, respectively, and were both later confirmed in their positions. To better understand these outcomes and the political context in which they occurred, we analysed headlines from US newspapers using a directed content analysis. We drew on Schneider and Ingram’s established social construction of target populations theory to examine how newspaper headlines characterised the relative power and valence of political figures in each year. Results identified both consistencies and shifts in social constructions across time. In 2018, there were more negative characterisations of the nominee, accuser and the President, and more negative and less powerful characterisations of the public. In both years, the Senate and political parties were characterised negatively and powerfully. These findings provide evidence that intransience in political institutions, increased negative partisanship, and weakened public power may illuminate the parallel outcomes despite changed social mores, such as the advent of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
Artykuł przedstawia zastosowanie teorii framingu doanalizy przekazów informacyjnych dotyczących pojęcia „bratniego narodu ukraińskiego” stosowanych w mediach rosyjskich na przykładzie dwóch wybranych (reprezentatywnych) rosyjskich portalach informacyjnych należących do wielkich stacji telewizyjnych: i Autor dokonuje operacjonalizacji ogólnie przyjętych w medioznawstwie ram newsa: konfliktu, ludzkiego interesu, odpowiedzialności, ekonomii i moralności i dodaje do nich dwie nowe ramy: historyczno-kulturowa i stylistyczno-emocjonalna. Każda z ram jest interpretacyjnym pakietem, nadającym znaczenie prezentowanym sprawom i wydarzeniom. Z przeprowadzonych badań wynika, że najczęściej stosowaną ramą newsów była rama konfliktu (80% –, 62% –, a najrzadziej – rama konsekwencji ekonomicznych (8%, 8%). Stosunkowo rzadko – w stosunku do oczekiwań – miała zastosowanie rama historyczno-kulturowa (28%, 37%). Badania pozwoliły zdemaskować prawdziwą strategię informacyjną Kremla i oficjalnych mediów rosyjskich w odniesieniu do pojęcia „bratnie narody”, która ukierunkowana została faktycznie na generowanie konfliktu rosyjsko-ukraińskiego.
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Using a simplified psychology of perception and some additional assumptions, a system of twelve factors describing events is presented that together are used as a definition of 'newsworthiness'. Three basic hypotheses are presented: the additivity hypothesis that the more factors an event satisfies, the higher the probability that it becomes news; the complementarity hypothesis that the factors will tend to exclude each other since if one factor is present it is less necessary for the other factors to be present for the event to become news; and the exclusion hypothesis that events that satisfy none or very few factors will not become news. This theory is then tested on the news presented in four different Norwegian newspapers from the Congo and Cuba crises of July 1960 and the Cyprus crisis of March-April 1964, and the data are in the majority of cases found to be consistent with the theory. A dozen additional hypotheses are then deduced from the theory and their social implications are discussed. Finally, some tentative policy impli cations are formulated.
This research tested hypotheses that news media often report violence against women (VAW) in passive-verb format and that this leads readers to be more accepting of VAW than reports using the active voice. In Study 1, 1,501 verbs from news stories were classified as having active or passive voice. Passive voice use for both VAW (rape) and nonsexual violence (murder) was greater than for comparison verbs. Findings of a follow-up semantic differential study suggested that these verbs'negativity could account for the results. In a third study, 54 college students read mock news reports on rape, battery, robbery, and murder, rated victim harm and perpetrator responsibility after each, and completed scales of attitudes toward sexual violence. With passive voice, males, but notfemales, attributed less victim harm and perpetrator responsibility for VAW than with active voice. Both females and males showed more acceptance of VAW with passive voice use.