Are misleading headlines lies or attention-grabbing stretches?

22 Feb

An editor probably wouldn’t purposely publish a story with misleading facts in it, but for some reason headlines seem to pass with misleading information often.

Perhaps headlines have managed to have a little more creative leeway than stories do because headlines used to be short, creative and attention-grabbing rather than long and SEO designed, but they still have to maintain a degree of integrity. By integrity, I mean that if readers are going to pass along false information because they only read the headline, then that’s an issue. 

In an article about Saints player Drew Brees and his record-breaking touchdown pass, the reaction from the Falcons, the opposing team, was overdramatized to write a headline that would draw more readers. Yes it’s misleading, but because of the nature of the situation, it’s not untrue.

Apparently throwing for another touchdown with only three minutes left in a game and a 38-16 lead just isn’t done, so the Falcons were assumably upset even if they didn’t say so.

Using the Falcons’ body language and presumed emotions doesn’t solidly back a headline saying they’d “never forget” the incident, but it is information presented in the article. A reader who passed along information that the Falcons were upset about the action wouldn’t be wrong, he just wouldn’t be able to back his statement with quotes or facts.

But in an article headlined “Obama has a big problem with white women,” the issue of Obama losing popularity among women is discussed. Obama doesn’t really have a prolem with white women, so the story doesn’t back the headline at all, and that’s an issue.

But it’s not something that necessarily falls under skeptical editing because it’s the editors who write the headlines. It seems to be more of an issue of where to draw the line on trying to attract readers as journalism conforms to new mediums.

Entertainment stories seem to write sensational, purposely misleading headlines often. Sometimes they’re funny when they’re aggregated into a post and we can look at them in a list, but aren’t we annoyed when we actually click on these stories that aren’t about anything we thought they’d be about?

Maybe it’s just our own fault for reading so much about celebrities and their personal lives, but I do wonder if there will be a point when readers are desensitized to sensational headlines in entertainment stories, and editors will have to come up with a new way of attracting readers.

But entertainment is a whole different animal than hard news, and that’s also part of the issue with the Obama story mentioned above.

Hard news deserves accurate headlines that draw readers in because the content is newworthy. Readers shouldn’t be tricked into reading about the president’s ratings or local hospital cost policies.

A headline should reflect a story, not mislead and trap.

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One Response to “Are misleading headlines lies or attention-grabbing stretches?”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Question still is – was that first hedline supported by the text? That is point of this case study.
    A headline should reflect a story, not mislead and trap. WELL PUT
    Excellent link on hospital story – that’s a keeper.

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