Headlines

| September 9, 2014

By Richard Neer
WFAN, New York
Talk Show Host

neerwriterNEW YORK — We’re all trying to find our way in this new digital world of ours. Conventional means of promoting our ideas may no longer work. Everything needs to be fresh, immediate, provocative. The attention span of our audiences have shortened and I’m not just talking about millennials. With the constant bombardment of information that we are under, even the most patient of us has a hard time giving every issue the attention it deserves.

Instead, we are expected to have instant reactions — black or white with no shades of gray. There is little time for deep discussions. There is no tolerance for asking questions that have no easy answers. Certain stories are reported from only one angle. Anyone who carefully parses a statement that the press declares politically incorrect is defined as supporting the dark side. Forget nuance, once you are attacked by the consensus bullies, you can only surrender and apologize, lest you lose your livelihood.

Ironically, instances of government censorship in this arena are scarce. It is the media and corporations that curtail free speech by insisting that anyone taking an unpopular opposing viewpoint be punished. Since limiting their power to self-censor would be seen as an infringement on their right to free speech, it seems precious little can be done about it. Anything that distorts their brand’s image is not tolerated and can be grounds for dismissal.

But here’s a small suggestion that just might help.

Create honest headlines.

How many times do you see the word “shocking” used in a headline? Or “your jaw will drop” or “you won’t believe”? Or the term “racist comments”?

If the headline is effective, you will read the story, and very often discover that the headline has misled you. In fact, the headline is often in direct opposition to the arc of the story. A prime example is a feature on a major website that states that any contact a team has with Ray Rice would have to be approved by the commissioner, basically echoing a press release by the NFL. The headline however, states that the NFL would not approve any contact with Ray Rice. Nothing in the text even suggests that.

Anyone who had the time to read the story would understand the contradiction. However, in our fast paced world, we frequently don’t have time to read the entire piece, and just draw our glib conclusions based on the headline. The same holds true for the Atlanta Hawks owner whose email of two years ago has been labeled racist by headline writers as if this is an accepted fact. But if you take the time to read the entire email, it might sound more like a plea against racism. Obviously, the memo can be interpreted differently, but the point is, due to the headlines, this man is being compared to Donald Sterling when no such equivalency exists.

Reporters, when confronted,  complain that they don’t write the headlines. But maybe, just maybe, in our electronic age, we should confer those duties to people who understand their responsibility to the truth. This doesn’t mean that headlines can’t be alluring and provocative, but that they should not be shorthand for misinformation.

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Richard Neer is the author of a new Kindle Edition e-book thriller titled “Something of the Night.”  For information, please click here.

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Category: Opinions, Sports