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Reuters Shows Us the Importance of Clear Headline Punctuation

Its latest victim: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gives a thumbs-up in front of a chainlink fence.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Headline writing can be a tricky thing. You want to be evocative but not clickbaity. You need to convey as much information as possible but are majorly limited by space so every character counts.

Sometimes, though, it’s worth sacrificing a few characters so as not to confuse your message. And it’s pretty remarkable just how much confusion can be caused by, say, a single colon, as Reuters showed us this weekend:

Picture of Andrew Cuomo with the headline "New York state confirms first coronavirus case: Governor Cuomo"


Yes, thanks to the choice to use a colon instead of an attributive verb (like “says Cuomo”), the message here is that New York’s governor is, himself, the state’s first COVID-19 patient, which, of course, he is not.

Reuters has been making and not learning from their mistake for a while now.

The choice to replace an attributive verb with a colon in headlines isn’t uncommon. It is, however, a precarious decision. Best case scenario: you save a few characters. Worst case: see above.

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.