Mainstream media still don't get why headlines matter

This is a problem in desperate need of fixing ahead of the 2020 election

Welcome to Too Long; Don’t Tweet, a new project where I take Twitter threads the probably should have been articles, and turn them into blogs. If you follow me on Twitter (@ParkerMolloy), you probably know what’s in store. I’ll try not to send out more than 1 or 2 e-mails a week with updates.

For the most part, I won’t be changing a whole lot in terms of formatting from Twitter to blog. As my tweets auto-delete after a set period of time, though, I figured that this would be a decent way to create a somewhat more permanent home for threads I think are noteworthy.


October 4, 2019:

Bad headlines will be the death of U.S.

Please. Stop. Doing. This.

Every one of these headlines could be fixed by simply adding "Caving to Trump pressure" or "After Trump calls on Ukraine to take action."

Most articles are fine and provide important context, but headlines suggest impropriety where there isn't any.

I know that no journalist wants to hear this, but it's the truth:

No matter how great your reporting is, no matter how many interviews you do, no matter how many thousands of words you write... no single sentence matters more than the headline.

Of the people who come across your article... whether that's from a news outlet's homepage or Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else, just a tiny fraction of them will even click through to it. 90%+ will see only the headline. Period.

And of the people who *do* click through to your article, only a small fraction of THEM will actually take the time to read the entire article.

And of the people who actually read the entire article... there will be a lot of people who didn't comprehend what you wrote or missed out on key details here and there.

The writing is important. The reporting is important. The interviews are important. Of course.

Without those things, there's no story to slap a headline on in the first place.

But in the end, the actual impact of your work will hinge mostly on what single sentence sits at the top of the page — which you probably didn't write.

Kind of sucks, right? But it's 100% true.

Oh, and another bummer: even if someone reads the entire article and really takes everything in, a bad headline or a bad photo pairing could still lead them to come to the wrong conclusion.

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about bad headlines and how to fix them (and why this matters).

There are 3 paragraphs in it you should read.

There's also something called the illusory truth effect. The tl;dr of that is basically that the more we hear a lie, the more likely it is that we believe it even if deep down we know it's not true.

That's why I've advocated against just quoting Trump's lies verbatim unchecked.

Which, sadly, is something a lot of reporters and news organizations do.

Like... a LOT.

And it's not limited to Trump or conservatives or anything like that.

Here's an example. Both of these tweets are reporting on the same thing, but one is better than the other. Can you tell? (It's CNN's, as it adds that there's no evidence of his claim).

ImageImage

My number 1 bit of advice for people writing headlines is this:

Write your tweets and headlines as though they're the only things people will see — because they probably are.