This is what you need to know about headlines

by Jul 19, 2020Reason0 comments


To come to an informed conclusion, one needs to check all available facts. Often headlines use selective facts to capture the reader’s attention. That’s why you must read beyond the headline to get the whole story.

It’s all the goldfish’s fault

Popular Internet fodder says that goldfish have a longer attention span than people. I have no idea how anyone can measure the attention span of a goldfish. But, according to some eggheads that tried, the goldfish comes in at nine seconds. And humans? We clock in at a measly five to eight seconds.

Whether the goldfish thing is real or it’s one of those over-used urban legends doesn’t matter. Journalists, bloggers, and advertisers think it’s true. So, they craft their content to hook the reader as quickly as possible. Within five to eight seconds.

That’s where the headline comes in.

The headline is the first thing a visitor sees on your website. Authors don’t want the headline to also be the last thing the reader sees. So they put a lot of effort into making it attractive, magnetic, attention-grabbing, etc.

Because if the headline doesn’t grab the reader’s attention, they’ll be gone faster than you can say #driveby.

So, is it any wonder why writers often sensationalize headlines? Sometimes so much so that the headline doesn’t reflect what’s in the article.

That’s the bait and switch of the online world. Promise the reader one thing in the headline then deliver something else in the article.

How a headline only tells part of the story

Here’s an example from Zero Hedge: Miami-Dade ICUs At 107% Capacity As Deaths Climb Across The Sun Belt.1

Pretty dang alarming, isn’t it? Zero Hedge got my click on this one. Too bad, it’s a steaming load of crap served on a piping hot turd biscuit.

Don’t freak out. Zero Hedge didn’t lie. Not in a technical sense, anyway. This is an example of a headline that’s delightfully accurate in its facts. But it’s miserably not true in that it misrepresents the facts to maximize the panic factor.

Here’s a law of the Universal OS. To come to an informed conclusion, one needs to check all available facts. A headline that tells only a partial story isn’t informative. So, never, ever stop reading at the headline. There’s no guarantee you’re getting the whole story.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on with this headline.

For this, we’ll look at the slide titled Daily COVID-19 Hospital Statistical Report. It’s from the Miami-Dade County Report towards the bottom of the post. And it has some interesting data.

In the 7/16/2020 column, we find:

  • ICU Beds: 440
  • COVID Patients in ICU Beds: 47

This makes the ICU bed use 472/440 = 1.07 or 107%.

Based on those numbers, ICU bed use is 107%. That’s consistent with the headline. There’s our factual accuracy.

But, take a look at the entry right beneath ICU Beds.

  • Beds that may be converted to ICU Beds: 458

When we add those beds into the mix, ICU bed use drops to 472/(440+458) = .525 or 53%

Instead of being at 107% capacity, ICU beds are only at 53% capacity. That’s our truth.

The situation doesn’t seem very panic worthy now.

If I haven’t yet put you in a state of awe, let me awe you with this. There’s no other information given about ICU beds. Does that mean all the people occupying ICU beds in Miami-Dade county are COVID patients? It seems that way. But how realistic is that? There’s no stroke, heart attack, or other patients in the ICU? It’s possible, but not probable.

We know that hospitals have an incentive to inflate COVID numbers. So, it’s legitimate to ask if there isn’t some COVID inflation happening.

What’s going on here?

Full disclosure. When I read the news, Zero Hedge is one of my goto websites. I find that its headlines generally aren’t as sensational as other websites. And Zero Hedge is less prone to incite panic. So why is this case different?

Is Zero Hedge trying to grab your attention with a factual, yet untruthful headline? Or is there something more?

The headline may be the result of a recent incident Zero Hedge had with Google and NBC News.

Zero Hedge may sound familiar to you. If so, it could be because NBC News got in some hot water with a tweet it sent out. In the tweet, NBC News claimed that Google banned Zero Hedge from Google’s ad platform. Being cut off from Google Ads impacts Zero Hedge’s revenue.

NBC News also claimed in the tweet that Zero Hedge is a far-right site. In Internet speak, that means Zero Hedge doesn’t parrot NBC News’ approved set of opinions.

It’s no surprise that NBC News’ tweet turned out to be a partial truth. To Google’s credit, its demonetization of Zero Hedge was temporary. It later restored Zero Hedge’s ability to run Google Ads.

It’s good that Google worked with Zero Hedge to get back in Google’s good graces. But one has to wonder if the actions of NBC News and Google had a chilling effect on Zero Hedge. Did it run this headline to conform to the mainstream narrative on COVID?

After all, Twitter already banned Zero Hedge for its non-mainstream COVID coverage.2

Let’s hope Zero Hedge isn’t altering its content to appease the tech giants. If it is, it’s another blow to free and open discussion of controversial subjects.

Let’s hope not.

Read past the headline

It’s easy to peruse the headlines on a website and feel like you’re getting an overview of the information on the page. But remember, headlines aren’t there to convey information. Websites use them to grab attention. Because of that, headlines often contain exaggerated claims that are exposed in the article. You must read past the headline to get the whole story.

What examples of biased headlines have you read? Leave some examples in the comments.

1 It looks like Zero Hedge has since changed the headline. Given that this is a live post updated throughout the day, it makes sense that it would change the headline as the news comes in. This was the headline when Zero Hedge first posted it to Parler.

2 In other words, running non-approved content.

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