Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How newspaper headlines can deceive us...

The new York Review of Books has a nice article by Tony Parks on how headlines, which are usually the responsibility of the newspapers' editor not the writer, may mislead and confuse the readers. Good read and a warning to all writers and readers alike.

Three most interesting excerpts:

"Writer and reader continue to nurture the comforting illusion that they are at opposite ends of a direct line of communication, that the writer has spoken exactly and completely his mind on the matter in question, while the reader has followed and understood his reasoning from beginning to end. In reality, every message, whether in book, newspaper, or blog, is mediated in all kinds of ways, all of which tend to push the text toward two related editorial priorities: melodrama and the received idea."


"But nothing prejudices the way a reader comes to a piece more than its headline. Nothing is more likely to make him or her believe, even after reading the article through, that the author has said something he has not said and perhaps would never want people to imagine he has said"


"It wasn’t always thus. Up until about a century ago, a headline or title was usually a neutral attempt to inform the reader of the contents of an article or book. But as the twentieth century progressed, or regressed, it was more and more understood as an advertising opportunity and the writing itself as no more, no less, than “content”—a consumer good. Newspapers on the verge of financial meltdown grow desperate and clearly seek to gratify their particular readership’s supposed prejudices. I just heard a BBC interview with Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the leftwing Guardian, about an ongoing spat between his paper and the rightwingDaily Mail. Rusbridger spoke of a mutual respect between two papers that knew how to give their target readership what they wanted. He didn’t appear to realize how depressing and patronizing this was as a comment on both readers and journalists. As if the argument between the papers was in fact no more than an effective commercial ploy".

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