2011 Headline contest winners

March 17, 2011 By Niko Dugan Contests and Awards

In our opening session, we awarded the year’s best headline writers and treated this year’s conference participants to a slide show of clever, funny and pitch-perfect headlines. But those not in Phoenix shouldn’t miss out on the show.


DIVISION A: Circulations of 240,001 and above
Laura Dominick, The Los Angeles Times

Judges’ comments: “Dominick’s work is nuanced and sensitive. Without leaning on major league puns, she writes subtly funny headlines that compel readers to jump into those stories. And extra kudos for some brutal one-column counts to boot. Laura’s headlines relay a comfortable, relaxed feel that are compelling.”

Frank Christlieb, The Dallas Morning News

Judges’ comments:“Frank Christlieb gives readers plenty of ‘a-ha’ moments (including ‘A-ha moments in study of our ha-has’ and ‘If your mind wanders, you’re not losing it’). And he’s able to handle heavier subjects with an elegant touch (‘The inescapable pall of death’). There’s an evocative elegance to his work.”

DIVISION B: Circulations between 160,001 and 240,000
Randal Hunhoff, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Judges’ comments: “Randal’s entry was solid. He excels at short, punchy heds, creating cohesive packages by working with the art and writing informative subheds without losing the overall tone.”

DIVISION C: Circulations between 80,001 and 160,000
Chris Hanna, Austin American-Statesman

Judges’ comments: “His risks pay off … It is refreshing to see sports headlines that take a more measured approach than the usual team- and player-name puns.”

DIVISION D: Circulations of 80,000 and below
Tom Meares, The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Judges’ comments: “Meares succeeds with wit, whimsy and a little magic. See him take a common phrase and tactically subtract a letter. Presto! Cart blanche roams the grocery store aisles. See him peer into a story about a mine and notice the attention the crowded shaft is attracting. Voila! We get an excellent contrast of darkness and limelight. See him turn a cliché on its head for a story on music. Poof! Rock is a hard place. Meares shows how fun is a powerful tool print headlines can use to grab and hold attention that tweets, posts and other media would otherwise draw away.”

Scott Beckett, Scripps Central Desk, Corpus Christi, Texas

Judges’ comments: “Beckett shows imagination and verbal dexterity. He smartly uses K, as in thousand, on a story about a race measured in K, as in kilometers, to yield a 14-K result, as in karats. ‘Will you … live with me’ creates a mental image of a gape-mouthed chagrined would-be spouse; neither we the readers nor the mate in the story get the ‘marry me’ we expect.”


A.J. Baime, Playboy

Judges’ comments: “The best combination of clever, intriguing and informative. There was plenty there to help me decide whether I wanted to read the story or not, and led me to want to know more.”

James Tehrani, Workforce Management


Jill Reed, The Orange County Register, Santa Ana, Calif.

Judges’ comments: “Jill Reed delivers what Web headlines should — they appeal to people first and search engines second. These headlines are lively and engaging, and they match the tone and content of the blog posts very well. Jill’s headlines are conversational and lighthearted yet get the point across. Jill also seems well-attuned to her audience of intelligent moms. One of the judges, a fan of the double entendre, said her favorite headline was  ”Drool to dribble: Will my giant son be an NBA star?” She also employed poetic justice, had a knack for playing off of photos, and all in all made it fun for the reader.”


Frank Shyong, Daily Bruin, UCLA

Judges’ comments: “News, features, sports — a good mix of stories for which he wrote great headlines. Very clever. His heds had a sophisticated, professional tone and that the wordplay was clever while not pushing into the realm of inaccuracy. He did a good job of getting information into the deks; they were pithy and none seemed padded. He seems to be one of those people who has a feel for creating a good rhythm to a hed and dek. One judge found his entries effortless and enjoyable to read.”


DIVISION A: Newspapers with circulations of 240,001 and above
The Dallas Morning News, Portfolio A

Judges’ comments: “Straightforward yet funny when appropriate. The robber headline is the perfect example of that, in a gloriously conversational way. These headlines read as though someone were actually talking to me, effortlessly, without headline-speak. Even with the puns, it is perfectly clear what these stories are about. I don’t have to know what’s been going on in local news to understand these headlines. … The Dallas Morning News portfolio features the appropriate amount of wordplay without sounding forced. ‘Wanted: dynamite essay that blows away judges’ and ‘Scientists can’t get over this dinosaur’s hump’ exemplify a cleverness and tone that perfectly matches the story.”

Los Angeles Times, Portfolio A

Judges’ comments: “The Los Angeles Times portfolio displays maximum impact with a brevity of words. ‘Surrounded by her son’ works perfectly with the art, and it mirrors the poignancy of the story. And ‘Toto recall’ about possible ‘Wizard of Oz’ film projects is wizardry with two words.”

DIVISION B: Newspapers with circulations between 160,001 and 240,000
The Orange County Register, Santa Ana, Calif.

Judges’ comments: “This choice wasn’t close for any of us, really. Orange County’s staff said a lot in a few words, and their entry was consistent: Each hed popped. We liked that they submitted heds across several sections of the paper, showing that they don’t rely on one or two headline stars.”

DIVISION C: Newspapers with circulations between 80,001 and 160,000
Omaha World-Herald, Portfolio A

Judges’ comments: “They struck headline gold with a 3-inch brief, and have a consistent, snarky tone.”

DIVISION D: Newspapers with circulations of 80,000 and below
Politico, Arlington, Va.

Judges’ comments: “With two excellent examples, this staff shows jumpheads on inside pages can be just as much fun as display heads on section fronts. The ‘bring home the bacon … you’re toast’ is a fiscal crisis cleverly reimagined as breakfast. And, staying with food, the staff looks at budget appropriations as plums, an anxiety-fraught fruit for picking. The staff also shines on main heads: The Madoff head takes ‘scheme’ away from schemer and puts it with the victims. The ‘Tempest in the Tea Party’ headline thinks cleverly outside the teapot. Well done all around.”

DIVISION E: Non-newspapers
Signal Magazine


DIVISION G: Student publications
Daily Bruin, UCLA

Judges’ comments: “Very clever headlines. It wasn’t just one or two special, good headlines. Headline after headline was consistently good. There was a level of sophistication that set these apart. They were clever without being too cutesy. The heds conveyed the information in a highly readable, understandable way — more important than ever in these multimedia days.”

2011 Best Headline Writers
Niko Dugan reads the winners of this year's headline contest during Thursday's opening session.

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