Although I don’t hear this as often as I once did, the claim that online heads shouldn’t give away the whole story is one that pops up now and again in my conversations with editors. The editors — addled by increasing pressure to increase revenue by increasing ad inventory by increasing page views — surmise (rightly) that some readers come to their homepages simply for a quick nibble of news headlines, and that online news editors should, therefore, write teaser heads that don’t give away the milk.
On one hand, maybe they’re right. After all, teasers have been a feature of broadcast news for years.
On the other hand, this mentality flies in the face of just giving the customer what he or she wants. And, as we all know, the customer is always right.
So, how much of a tease will the online audience tolerate? Are younger readers, who are more likely to quickly click links in search of the information they want, more likely than older readers, who often carefully assess their choices before clicking on a link, more tolerant of teaser heads? Does the perceived urgency or relevancy of a headline cause readers to be more or less likely to click on teaser heads? Is there some measurement of vagueness that would allow us to find the right balance between serving our reader customers and serving our advertising customers?