Craig R. Whitney, the man in charge of standards at the NYT, took a question about headlines today. His answer: "One of the things I learned while I was night news editor for five years was just how much intelligence, hard work, sheer creativity, and diligence goes into the art of headline writing. And it is an art. I was so much in awe of the difficulty of the task that I never tried to write one myself; I sometimes offered a critique or suggested another word when I thought it was better.
But I can assure you that headlines are checked and re-checked to ensure that they accurately reflect the gist of the articles they summarize. Headlines are written by copy editors, and checked at The Times by another squadron of editors known as the News Desk. Usually the person who edited the article writes the headline for it. Sometimes the writer of an article will get involved. But always, the aims are accuracy and conciseness. But what conciseness. Headline space is not elastic; the headline has to fit precisely in the limited space for it dictated by its particular format. The 'right' word often just won't fit. Then the editor has to find another word that's just as accurate and will fit. This is not just hard to do; it's rocket science compared to writing the 1,400-word story the headline goes over."