In the News: Dodgy headlines

I’m a bit of a news junkie at times. I trawl news sites for fun and interesting things to read whenever I have a spare moment. I like feeling connected with the world. Sometimes, though, I see a headline that just makes me want to throw my computer out a window.

I get it. News outlets are struggling to survive in a world where you can get all your news for free. Journalism lives and dies these days by the number of clicks on each article. You want your headlines to be totally outrageous so you can get the most clicks.

But some headlines are downright misleading, and not everyone bothers to read past them, so in those cases misleading can become actively harmful. There are going to be plenty of people who read headlines like the following two, and come away with lies.

Psychic exposed as fraudster leaves trail of unpaid debts in UK – this article isn’t about this dude faking psychic powers. It’s about his failure to pay wages to employees. He may also have been a fake psychic, but that’s not in the article.

Psychic wrongly predicts she is Dali’s child in surreal paternity claim – this one looks like a psychic predicted (via psychic powers) that she was Dali’s daughter, but was wrong. The article reveals that she had completely mundane reasons to think she was Dali’s daughter1. The title is just a way to discredit the woman’s claims even further.

These aren’t the only examples of this kind of journalistic/editorial misconduct, they’re just two that I saw recently that were relevant to this blog. There are so many other examples out there. You barely even need to look.

I fail to see why the need for clicks and ad revenue is so important that news outlets are willing to lie to their readers and risk their reputation. It doesn’t help anyone. It just makes me lose any trust I had for the outlet2. This is especially irritating because these stories were newsworthy without the stupid headlines. I was interested in finding out about the Dali paternity test. I’d have read about Simon Gold’s fraud charges.

I kind of feel bad for the authors – they don’t always get a say on the headline. Both articles are much more grounded and well-researched than the headlines suggest, so chances are that those authors didn’t have the last word on the titles.

Please, don’t trust headlines.

May the cards fall in your favour,

  1. Apparently her Mum said she slept with Dali when she worked as a maid for some of Dali’s friends. If your Mum slept with a dude approximately 9 months before you were born, there’s a decent chance he’s your Dad. That’s not a psychic prediction. That’s regular old deduction.
  2. Not that these two were the most trustworthy to begin with.

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