We had a made-for-TV story come along yesterday. A mother stops at the local Dunkin Donuts with her two kids and 17-year old brother and leaves them in the car. While she is inside the brother gets out and opens the trunk to pull out items he needed for work.

Meanwhile a man walks across the parking lot – gets in the truck and pulls away – with the brother clinging to the back bumper. And it is all caught on security cameras. The story ends well as the truck was recovered a block away – but the scenario is terrifying.

So, we had the video and an interview with the family – both of which we put up Web first Thursday afternoon. The question is – what’s the Web headline going to be?

<insert Jeopardy music here>

Some of the more creative minds in the newsroom suggested (almost) jokingly that we go with a tabloid TV head:

A mother’s worst nightmare!


Are Your Kids Safe?

Both of course followed by a tagline – ‘film at 11:00.’

In the other direction – what we ended up using in print today was

A harrowing few minutes for family

That is clear enough and probably engaging in print – with a subhead and photos. But it certainly does not scream ‘Video.’

What is the balance in Web journalism between telling the story and selling the story? Tabloid papers live off the quality of their headlines – is that approach a better fit for online regardless of how you handle it in print? Does pandering to an audience just come more naturally online? Is it pandering? So many question marks?

After a brief discussion I have to say we went the safe middle route:

Security Camera captures car theft with kids in the backseat

The headline has most of the SEO-goodness you would want, plus it gets the idea of ‘we have video’ in there along with the potential peril to the kids – but without going overboard. But, I still wonder if it would not have gotten more traffic yesterday with something like:

Coffee shop stop nightmare for mom, kids – see the video!

What can you justify when you are talking about trying to drive pageviews?