The Dramatic Process of Writing Headlines at Man Repeller

It’s a group effort and an internal competition


If content is king, then headlines are its crown.

That was my suggestion for the headline of this story. I messaged it to our team Slack channel specifically reserved for headlines where it was quickly shut down and a bevy of ideas far more worthy were pinged out in rapid succession.

Headlines are an important part of story packaging. If the headline is weird, out of context, confusing or just not interesting, people are less likely to click — no matter what the inside holds. At the same time, a headline shouldn’t be “bait.” You should never click on a headline and then be disappointed with what you find beneath it.

So much of headlining is a combination of being intuitive + being obvious + being clever. The process itself, however, is a bit more rocky. There is drama! Competition! Burns! Tangents! Pauses where nothing gets done at all and then two hours later someone’s like, “Ok so what’s the headline?” It’s a thrill. And because you are all a part of the team, we wanted to share how it’s done…

Leslie: Need a headline for a personal essay about being a woman who loves sports and how people respond to that weirdly. “Why can’t liking sports be like loving the movies or Game of Thrones or ramen? In other words, unremarkable. Why can’t liking sports just make me a sports fan?”

Leandra: I’m a Girly Girl Who Loves Sports, What’s the Big Deal?

Amelia: I’m a Woman Who Likes Sports: SO?
Why Is Sports Still Gendered?
Take the Ball Game Out of the Ball Game

Leslie: Amelia your first is great.

Amelia: But not the balls joke?

Ignored, but I’ll take it. It’s rare that my headlines win. Normally Harling and Haley reign supreme in this region.

Leslie: Headline for Monday about how your parents’ divorce affects your relationships or whether or not you’ll be divorced

Amelia: Here is One More Thing to Tell Your Therapist
Your Parents Divorce Didn’t Do as Much Damage as You Thought
You May Not Be Able to Blame Your Parents for This One bla la la
Your Parents’ Divorce Says a Lot About Your Future // Relationships // Therapy Bill // Attachment Issues //
Your Parents Divorce Could Affect Your Breakups

Leslie: What Your Parents’ Divorce Means for Your Relationships

Amelia: Fine

Ahem. Now let’s get into an example of a real brainstorm where multiple team members participate to hit just the right note.

Writing Headlines Man Repeller-11

Haley: Hed help for this piece I’m writing about the collision of NYFW with all this political tension. I spoke to three women in the industry about how they are looking at this upcoming week. Q&A! Did it change their view of the US? Do people have an obligation to address politics during FW?

Three Foreign Industry Vets on NYFW Through the Lens of Politics
3 Industry Vets on the Politics of NYFW

Maria: International?

Leslie: 3 Fashion Vets something

Haley: 3 International Fashion Vets on the Politics of NYFW
It’s a Tricky Time for NYFW: 3 Fashion Vets Weigh In (edited)
3 Fashion Vets Weigh in on the Politics of NYFW

Leslie: Add “perspective,” the perspective from Turkey was v interesting

Kate: It’s not politics of NYFW

Haley: Politics AND NYFW, maybe

Harling: Will Politics Affect Fashion Week? 3 Industry Insiders Weigh In

Haley: I’m liking this more yeah..hmm

Kate: NYFW and Politics: 3 international industry heavyweights weigh in
Maybe fewer boxing references

Haley: 3 Fashion Vets on Whether Politics Should Affect NYFW
NYFW vs. Politics: 3 Fashion Vets on the Week Ahead
3 Fashion Vets on Whether Politics Will Affect NYFW
Leslie how about that last one @leslie

Leslie: Hm, does it tell the story that we are telling?

Harling: Does vets sound weird to anyone else? Makes me think of dogs and cats
Or like, show biz.

Haley: NYFW from Abroad: tk?

Tk means “to know.” It’s a placeholder for a word, phrase or number that’s used in publishing.

Leslie: Yeah, the point is about how people are viewing from abroad

Haley: The Abroad Perspective: 3 Fashion [vets] on NYFW and Politics

Harling: Will Politics Affect NYFW? The International Community Weighs In

Haley: Should Politics Affect NYFW? 3 Seasoned Perspectives From Abroad

Maria: Will NYFW “Get Political?” The International Community Weighs In
(option to Harling’s)

Haley: Hmm
We Asked People About NYFW Given Our Tense Political Climate
3 International Perspectives on NYFW Given our Current Political…Situation
3 International Perspectives on NYFW and America’s Political Tension

Harling: Tense Politics and NYFW: The International Perspective

Haley: We could do a more general head like
What Will NYFW Be Like in This Political Climate?
Then the promo can mention the international perspective.

Leslie: I like Harling’s latest

Haley: K!

And we have a winner! 

Writing Headlines Man Repeller-14

Amelia: There Is a Shit Ton of Pink in My Cart – @here – Go!

Leslie: My New Favorite Color is Pink
Too much
All of a Sudden, I Want Pink Clothes

Harling: My Shopping Cart Looks Like the Inside of a Mouth
Ew no
Pink: Not Just for Pepto-Bismol Anymore

Haley: My Shopping Cart Looks Like a Bottle of Pepto (and I Love It)

Leslie: I’m in a Pink Mood, Are You?

Haley: I’m rly into parentheticals in titles for some reason

Erica: Pink, So Hot Right Now. Pink.

Harling: Cool Girls Wear Pink

Eliz: Elle Woods is in My Cart

Harling: Haha I like that

Eliz: My Cart is a Barbie Dream House

Haley: Suddenly All I Want Are Pink Clothes

Haley wins. 

Leslie: Headline
Camera Roll Cleanse: 10 Types of Photos You Can Live Without
We can’t do another one that starts w/10 FYI
Delete These Photos Off Your Phone
Photos to Delete Off Your Phone

Amelia: Delete These Photos Off Your Phone ASAP!
Photos to Delete Before Things Get Weird

Harling: Photos Your Camera Roll Can Live Without

Leslie: I like asap

Amelia: :star:

Harling: You win

I’ll take it. Victory.

Photos by Krista Anna Lewis.

Get more Humor ?
  • Suzan

    Super fun to get a peek into the group dynamics/efforts of a business like MR!
    Had to laugh at “My Shopping Cart Looks Like the Inside of a Mouth”!!!

  • Michelle Bruni

    Haha that’s great! It’s cool to see how you guys come up with this stuff. I like it.

  • dietcokehead

    “tk” is “to know”? I never knew that. Journalists have such weird, gross slang sometimes (rim, slot, reefer) that I’ve always assumed it was “to come” … but like, “to kum.”

  • What an insight! Love you guys

    – Natalie

  • tmm16

    Headlines are the hardest. I always struggle with length specifically. MR does such a great job of keeping that in check but also making them v interesting 🙂

  • olivia mclean

    I don’t know if you guys read the comments but I am a 17 year old girl and whenever I pick up my group chat flooded, Washington Post notification riddled phone I NEED to visit Man Repeller. Even when I’m on other apps there is this lingering “goooo on Man Repeller right now” or “did you just close instagram and open it straight away again? You’re bored. Go to Man Repeller.” At this age, where I am from at least, girls my age all dress the same. A few are too scared to delve into appearing “stylish” and other try for the leather jacket cool girl effortess I’m an ass look. I have always knew I wanted to dress like a crazy bitch but always been too afraid, and this website motivates me to wear what I want. Pink bedazzled kitten heels? YES. Sequinned jeans? YES. Scary parrot coloured faux fur jacket? YES. Thank you thank you thank you my inner crazy is free and I cannot thank you all enough for this.

  • Andrea Raymer

    I wish you went with “my shopping cart looks like the inside of a mouth”

  • Haley Nahman

    I feel like it should be mentioned that Harling is the Queen of Headlines and Amelia and I get in bitter/jealous fights over trying to win Leslie’s favor when it comes to heds

    • Harling Ross

      may the odds be ever in your fAvOr

    • I live for the little BTS articles

  • Maria

    The best headline was def “My Shopping Cart Looks Like the Inside of a Mouth.”

  • Morgan Siggard

    This article was so helpful! I kept thinking of sporty spice during the sports convo. More articles like this please! I always fall back on alliteration for headlines, at least as a jumping off point. Something about the way they sound makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

  • Peter

    I like MR headlines for their cleverness but also for their nonclickbaitiness (a real word). Today the headlines from my whowhatwear and byrdie beauty newsletters (neither of which I read but I receive newsletters from because opting out is such an arduous series of like 4 clicks) are STYLISH WOMEN NEVER MAKE THIS FASHION MISTAKE and DON’T BE FOOLED BY THESE HEALTHY FOODS (even we were surprised by #11. yikes!). The fashion mistake is wearing clothes that are not “versatile enough to survive the whole day” and #11 is Vitamin Water. Liz Lemon eye roll.

    Alternate headline for this article: OUR EDITORS FACE OFF IN HEADLINE WARS (will Harling win again???)

  • hearceespeak

    This makes my head hurt (in a good way!) Thanks for sharing this with us – definitely makes me not feel alone when it comes to the pains of creating a good headline.

  • Jackie Homan

    I really wish more publications would take your lead when it comes to avoiding clickbait headlines. It kills me that there are sometimes great stories out there that are ruined by clickbait, and it makes me have 10000% more respect for you guys that you’re one of the ONLY websites I know of that has genuine headlines.