The importance of headlines

21 Feb

Headlines can make or break an article. They can draw in the reader. They can keep people with little time in the know with the news. They can supply late night talk show hosts with material.

As journalists, we all know that the most important part of our job is to bring the reader accurate news. It’s not our job to form their opinions for them or to mislead them. This is why we have to be especially careful when writing headlines. A lot of things can be taken out of context or misinterpreted.

This happened to the players of the Atlanta Falcons when one of their teammates made some comments about Drew Brees. An “unnamed teammate” criticized Brees and his coach, Sean Payton, for running up the score in a game against them just so Brees could break a record. In this situation, it’s not fair to write the headline “Falcons ‘won’t forget’ Brees airing it out late to break record.” Especially since this was the comment of just one of the players on the team. The article even mentions other Falcons players congratulated Brees and Payton. I don’t think the journalist should have written this headline knowing his article didn’t back it up.

At the same time, we must be sure not take what people say out of context or twist the headline to make it more interesting. Sometimes to desire for an interesting story can overtake our basic journalistic instincts and duties. Fox News is guilty of doing this in regards to Obama. The headline of this article, Obama has big problem with white women, is clearly misleading, almost to the point where I wonder if it was designed to be this way.

A simple Google search will bring up plenty of headlines that have been misinterpreted. Some change the meaning of the article completely while others are twisted to simply trick the reader into reading more. Among them all, there are sites dedicated to compile sloppily written headlines that have funny double meanings. All of these things prove the importance of being very careful with our words as journalists, especially in the most noticeable part of the newspaper: the headline.

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