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On the diminishing importance of headlines

January 20, 2017

Obama Beats Weiner

Photo: Robert Moran (CC)

Most people see the news on television. The Internet, including apps and social media, ranks second.

Those above 50 are very into TV, while those under 50 are more into online news. These statistics come from a Pew Research Center 2016 survey.

News channels

Clearly, more and more people are relying on Web-based news. And usually, that news comes in headline form.

The challenge is that those headlines, for better or worse, are the sum total of news that users receive. They don’t click to read the full story (or watch the video or flip through the slideshow), but they do absorb the headline, whether they agree or disagree with it.

(Often, someone will comment on a link I share, reacting not to my words, but to the attached headline that I didn’t write or even have a say in. It’s the digital equivalent of “Old Man Yells at Cloud.”)

It’s a frustrating trend for me on so many levels. As a headline writer. As a thorough reader. As a pithy Twitterer. As a combatant against willful ignorance.

The good news for bloggers is that the content can be of sub-par quality as long as the headline is sharp. The bad news is that those of us who happen to write terrific posts or film great video are stuck.

This is similar to the trend where commenters stopped leaving comments on posts and started putting them with Facebook shares and tweeted replies. Or studying the issues through 7-word photo memes, clickbait come-ons and animated gifs.

So much for engagement and edifying our audiences.

All I can do is continue to suggest that bloggers make their headlines clear and succinct. And to thank any readers who made it this far.

Thank you.

More on headlines:

Weaponize content | The worst headlines in history will destroy your faith in humanity

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