What are kickers and why newspapers use them even today

In India, they call it shoulder, and in the US they call it kicker. But in both countries the kicker or shoulder is a great help to headline writers. It provides them the extra space that they desperately need to pack meaning in headlines.

The shoulder or kicker has been defined as the headline that is placed on top of the main headline. This headline is set in small points, and its purpose is to supplement the main headline.

It can be used in two ways:

Classic kicker/shoulder:

In this case the headline writer uses the subject of the story as the kicker.

For instance, when the Supreme Court refused to defer the trial in the disproportionate assets case filed against the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, the Indian Express headline writer used the subject — that is disproportionate assets case as the shoulder.

This gave the headline writer the space to focus on what the Supreme Court ruled, which then became the main headline.


Descriptive kicker

The headline writer has the option to run the kicker across the width of the main headline. In this case, the headline writer can provide more information in the headline by focusing on a different point.

For instance, the Telegraph headline writer focused on the heroics of caption M.S.Dhoni in leading his team to victory. The kicker gave information about the margin of the victory.

kickerDesign Tool

The kickers serve one more purpose today. Newspapers now set shoulders in reverse or against colour backgrounds to provide contrast on the page.

However, despite their increased popularity, newspapers discourage extensive use of shoulders. There are two reasons for this:

One, the newspapers do not want to waste space.

Two, too many kickers can become a visual irritant.

It is best to use kickers sparingly.

About Sunil Saxena 281 Articles

Sunil Saxena is an award winning media professional with over three decades of experience in New Media, Social Media, Mobile Journalism, Print Journalism, Media Education and Research.

3 Comments on What are kickers and why newspapers use them even today

  1. Dear Sunil, In journalism, universally, a ‘Kicker’ is the last graph of the article and what you have explained in detail is actually a Headline Tag…. which is in all Caps above the headline.

    • Thank you, Troy for raising this interesting point. In India, shoulder is the term that is commonly used for the small headline written on top of the main headline. Generally, it states the subject of the story. It is composed in small points and can be in all caps or in upper lower case. Sometimes, the shoulder is referred to as kicker also. You can find this definition in The News Manual glossary (available on the net) and Wikipedia.

      However, you are also right about the last sentence/last quote/or last paragraph of a story being referred to as a kicker.

      Kicker has one more meaning. It is used to describe the first few sentences of a story set in a larger point on top.

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