What’s Inside a Headline?
9:40 AM EDT on June 15, 2011
Of course, how headline editors choose to grab one's attention often says a lot about their employer and/or audience. For instance, yesterday the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a ruling on Randy Terrill's controversial anti-Mexican legislation (House Bill 1804). What did the ruling say? You could read the story every major reporting agency in the city had yesterday (all of them basically said the same thing) or you can read the headlines from every major reporting agency (and get very different outlooks about what happened).
Let's take a look:
As the public broadcasting option in OKC, OETA does not have advertisers to impress. Their ratings (in this case: pageviews) are arbitrarily important to the station. It show by that boring-ass headline.
Also, as a public entity receiving tax money, they work very hard to show no bias liberal or conservative...contrary to what one side of that spectrum tries to make you believe. The result is that they truly have to stick to journalistic standards--and that is what their audience craves. Hence, the headline does not nudge the reader to think one way or another.
Other media sources did not have such qualms.
It is the truth. The Supreme Court did approve most of Randy Terrill's hate speech wrapped in legal jargon. More importantly, Channel 4 wrote the headline in a way that encouraged the reader to click for more information. It leaves some mystery. "What about it did the Supreme Court not accept?" potential page viewers wonder. Well, they clicked to find out. Others also used this tactic.
Again, this entices the reader to move forward and view their story (which as I mentioned before is pretty similar to what everyone else wrote). In this case, though, the editor seems to have a more liberal reader in mind. Being one of those liberals, I definitely want to know which part of the bill did get shot down. (For the record, it related to making bail bonds more restrictive to illegal aliens.)
Meanwhile, these next couple of sources felt no need to leave mystery.
Well, unlike, Channel 4, the local FOX affiliate was not banking on people respecting their effort at accuracy. As was established before, the Supreme Court did not uphold everything as the headline suggests.
So why would they write a misleading headline that lacks the click through enticement? A different audience would be my guess. Conservatives seeing this information are more likely to want to take the victory lap approach to reading the article and learn about how their preconceived notions are correct. Someone who wants more stringent anti-immigration laws does not want to read a story about how Terrill's bill was partially derailed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court as News-9's headline promised. Unless News-9's story promised to rail against the justices being out of line, the anti-immigrant reader wants their opinion validated. KOKH's headline gives them that, and forgives the reader for skimming through the part about unconstitutional rulings.
The state's biggest newspaper used a similar approach.
As far as the headline goes, it is basically identical to what FOX brought to the table. There is a not-so-subtle effort to amplify the appeal to conservative readers, though. Do you see it? How can you miss it?
Not only is The Oklahoman trying to get the anti-immigration reader to come take a victory lap by reading their story, they subliminally say that this result is patriotic through the accompanying picture. Obviously, the better tactic would have been to use Patrick's method of attaching a picture of a hot girl to every news story.
The last group used the most imaginative method.
Another way media try to enhance their value to their audience is by scooping their competitors and getting the information out there first. Channel-5 is taking the opposite approach. As of the writing of this story, they were the only major news source with no mention of the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling.
On the other hand, they have two stories that end in mentions of corndogs leading police to apprehend a burglar. Truth be told, you probably wouldn't want to bump that for real news, anyway.