When You Live By The Headline, You Die By The Headline

I’ve long complained about misleading headlines in stories about media and television viewing.  Headlines scream about how traditional TV is on the decline, while other screens are on the rise by leaps and bounds.  

It’s not until you read the actual stories that you realize that, (in many of them) either the research is dubious or has been misinterpreted.  Other screens are indeed on the rise, but traditional TV is still doing just fine, and remains dominant among virtually every age group. 

While annoying to those of us who analyze what’s really going on in the industry, it doesn’t matter that much in the scheme of things.  

In politics, however, it matters.  If you can sell a good headline, you’re likely to win the day.  Most people will tend to read or listen to the headline, without bothering to get the entire story.  

President Trump, of course, benefited tremendously from headline politics and headline media.  “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Crooked Hillary” – it almost didn’t matter what followed in the story, the headline made the brand.  Trump’s headlines that he was a successful businessman, an outsider, and will drain the swamp, overshadowed the negative stories that his opponents couldn’t turn into compelling headlines.  



Cable news is good at headlines, but not so much at stories or in-depth analysis.  You would think that 24-hour news networks would be better at this, until you realize that 24-hour news is a myth.  It’s really just a series of one-hour news cycles, where the same headlines are repeated and panel-discussed throughout the day.

Each hour a new host comes on and simply repeats almost exactly what was reported during the previous hour (unless there’s some real breaking news event).  There might be a really interesting discussion about some topic, and the anchor will say, “Sorry, we have to cut this short because we’re running out of time,” and then a new host comes on and starts talking about the same headlines the previous host started discussing an hour earlier.  And the various hosts never seem to learn anything from the previous segment.  Some point can be thoroughly debunked by a guest, and the next anchor simply repeats the same question as if it’s the first time anyone is hearing it.

Social media was made for headlines even more than cable networks.  How many times do you see “news” articles (real or fake) posted on Facebook, and just read the headline without bothering to click on the story?

But headlines cut both ways.  Whether or not the proposed travel restrictions really are a Muslim ban, that’s the headline.  

While Trump was running for office, that headline was good for his supporters.  Now that he’s president, that headline is bad for the majority of the country (and apparently, the courts).

When it comes to healthcare and tax reform, headlines tend to favor liberals for the former, and conservatives for the latter.  That’s primarily because of the basic truth that people like to get stuff, and they don’t like to give up stuff.  The headlines are that liberals generally want to give people more healthcare, conservatives want to take away healthcare; conservatives want to give people more money (by reducing taxes), liberals want to take away their money (by raising taxes).  Both are simplistic and not entirely accurate, but those are the headlines.

“Repeal and Replace Obamacare” was an effective headline for years.  But it was a successful because most people are not on Obamacare and many did see their health insurance rates go up.  But once Republicans tried to actually do something about it, the headline, “24 Million People Will Lose Health Insurance,” made it virtually impossible to succeed.

The next headline, “Trump Agrees with Conservatives to Remove Essential Benefits from Health Plan,” doomed it for sure.  It didn’t really matter what that meant, the headline about eliminating “essential benefits” was enough to make the public even more against the plan (and make many Republicans back off).  If they continue the effort, they’ll need new headlines to succeed.

When you live by the headline, you die by the headline.

1 comment about "When You Live By The Headline, You Die By The Headline ".
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  1. Jennifer Jarratt from Leading Futurists, LLC, April 5, 2017 at 2:38 p.m.

    A headline is also a means of "framing" the issue, but with a verb in it, in the traditional manner, it can also lay blame, as you say. Just imagine a future in which we all speak to each other in these brief, exaggerated sentences because no one any longer bothers to read. It's all tl:dk!

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