In the olden days of print, there was a term called “orphan ” that referred to a headline or paragraph with a lonely word dangling on a line by itself. The copy editor would rewrite it “to get rid of the orphan.” (For a discussion of widows and orphans, see: http://www.magazinedesigning.com.)
Today, when we all read our news on various size screens on sites with “responsive design,” the headline length is not measured by “size” but by its relationship to the width of a container that I’ll just call “a column” (i.e., 100% of the width of a column, not 14 px).
Moreover, the writers of headlines today have it beat into them that their headlines should be “optimized” for search (SEO), which can be translated: Write this headline for a machine called Google.
There is nothing inherently or existentially or ethically wrong with writing a headline for Google. If I had a story like the one appearing on the Tennessean.com today about Ashley Judd and Connie Britton, I’d put their names at the beginning of the line, as well.
However, when “responsive design” meets SEO headlines, it can create something the reader sees on the screen a bit confusing. It makes me think of a big sign I used to see on a newsroom that said: Pity the Poor Reader.
I guess they took that one down and put up one that says, Pity the Poor Google.