Friday, May 23, 2014

Just Stop Already: Article Headlines that Tease

I’m old for someone my age, and that sometimes makes me grumbly. I know it. When reading a news story, or one that is supposed to resemble a news story (usually online), I find myself growing more and more irritated. Why? I learned a long time ago that the best news stories present the most important information first. I really can't handle it when an article doesn't adhere to this practice (I almost had to walk away from this post while researching headlines because I was so frustrated). Examples:
  • Something Weird Happens When Three Master Fencers Battle Fifty Novices: It doesn't play out the way you probably think it does (Really, IO9?!)
Any headline from Upworthy (these are all real):

  • He's Counting Down from 21, And By The Time He Reaches 15, My Stomach Is In Knots (First: can we please talk about capitalization rules in titles? Second: I couldn't agree more, commenter Lynn Shuck.)
  • Think The Internet's Kinda Awful Sometimes? Well, You're Right. Here's Why.
  • They're Trying To Censor Her -- So She Made A Video To Tell You What's Happening Instead
  • Do You Like Drinking Beer? Here's A Video You'll Want To Pay Close Attention To.
  • I Hate Sushi, But This Has Got To Be One Of The Most Engaging Videos I've Ever Seen
  • 4 Minutes That Are Better Than Any Self-Help Book I've Ever Read
(Again, capitalization rules...and inconsistent punctuation, please.)

I'm not saying the information they present isn't inspirational or interesting. I've shared my fair share of articles with headlines that tease, but at some point I just had to step away. I think I've reached teasing headline saturation. Just provide the necessary information, or I'll get really irritated. I know it is supposed to entice us to click through onto the link, but so often it’s just a story that hijacks another story, waters it down into fluff, and then (maybe) provides a link back to the original.

Can you imagine having an in-person conversation in this style with someone? It would be like an extended, less informative, Perd Hapley interview.

(Walks up to acquaintance, sitting at a picnic table outdoors) 

Hey! How's it going?

On a day like today, with weather like this, you won't believe your eyes when you see just how today is going. Ask me again, but be sure you're sitting down! You'll never look at today the same way again!

So...Okay... I'm going to guess today is going well. Does it have something to do with that awesome-looking sandwich sitting in front of you? What kind of sandwich is that anyway?

What's in between these two slices of bread is better than anything you've ever had before. Take off the sandwich lid to see more. You won't regret it! It just might change your life!

Ummm, well, I haven't really washed my hands lately, so I probably shouldn't be touching other people's food. Germs and all. Plus it's a little weird for you to tell me to take apart your sandwich. I don't really know you that well...But, hey. Enjoy it, I guess. 

(Walks away quickly with confused look on face)

Here are some headlines I like (not because of the content, because the news can be quite sad) because they tell me what I need to know without teasing me:

Mouse Experiments Hint at Fountain of Youth in Young Blood (Nova Next & PBS)
De Blasio Outlines Affordable Housing Plan for City (NY Times)
Nigerian Insurgency Leader Says He Has Taken Abducted Girls as Slaves (Wall Street Journal)
Netflix's 'Orange Is the New Black' Renewed for Third Season (Hollywood Reporter)

So how does all of my complaining translate to real life? Here's me getting to the point (I know, I'm not practicing what I preach by putting this at the end): Say what you mean; mean what you say. Sometimes it can be helpful to cushion the message (i.e. "let's sit down and talk about this" situations), but sometimes it can just get in the way (i.e. situations where a firm, clear message is needed).

Anyone else out there feel this way? Just me? Alright then...


Meg said...

No seriously. I am SO sick of these stupid headlines. Every time I see one now I'm like, "You know what? I don't even CARE what heartwarming thing the old man did. I don't want to see it now that I've read that headline. Get over yourself." So it's not just you. :)

Cara said...

I just commented on a local TV news station's link-bait they just posted. I couldn't take it anymore. And I didn't click to learn what they mean by "This 911 call surprised even police."

Patience = gonzo... Here's what I wrote: I just have to say this: Please stop with the link-bait headlines. It is not good journalism. I know there have been shifting goals with the change to digital over print (i.e. newspapers & increased digital content), but, in my opinion, this type of headline gets in the way of your primary goal: disseminating information efficiently. Generally, I appreciate your broadcast content, but this type of web content link-baiting is not something I appreciate.

And then I posted a reply to my comment that said: "It's like an Upworthy headline..." and then linked to this blog post. Doubt anything will happen, though!