Once upon a time a lot of people would’ve said they just report facts. But over the years, most of us have seen the media become nothing more than mouthpieces for whoever controls them.
The way people consume news has also changed. Historically it was through print articles. Then, it was television. However, most people now just read headlines on social media. In fact, over 60% of articles get shared on social media without ever being read. In other words, based just on the headline.
So, in order to influence opinion, publishers have had to become a lot more creative with the way they write headlines. There are too many methods to cover in one article. However, there are some common ones that almost every publisher uses.
First though, we should define what a headline is.
It is meant to introduce the article directly below it. Historically they were short and stuck to a strict grammatical structure.
Old headlines were almost exclusively nouns, verbs, and articles/prepositions. They were objective words that represented facts. An example is President of Hungary Declares War on Germany. Subjective words, like adjectives or adverbs, don't so much represent facts as they do the author's opinion.
Historically, the author’s opinion was something that editors tried hard to remove. These days however, most publications are exclusively opinion. More accurately, opinion masquerading as legitimate news. Also, since so few people read the articles, headlines have become even more important.
If media outlets only cared about reporting facts, you would see the same types of headlines they always ran. However, they don’t, and modern headlines reflect that. Lots of new tricks have been incorporated in order to advance a narrative in one sentence or less.
The name of the game is to play with words to put an image in a reader’s head. Again, there are far too many ways to fit into one article. However, some of the more common ones include:
1. Verb Usage – Used to paint a picture of someone’s character. A headline like “AOC Rages Over Reopening Of America” - Breitbart. The headline makes her seem like she’s not in control of her emotions and, thus, unfit for office. In reality, she sent out a tweet. Watch out for verbs like Scorn, Fume, Lash Out.
2. Adjectives – Used to spin the truth. Almost always indicative of some kind of opinion piece. Hardly ever a real news story. “Marco Rubio’s Mind-Blowing Explanation For His Impeachment Vote” - CNN. That headline only tells you that the author disagrees with why Rubio voted the way that he did.
3. Quotes – Again, often used for spin. “U.S. Student Visas 'A Lot Of People I know Are Scared For The Future’” - BBC. This says nothing about what’s happening other than that one student is scared. The only point of a headline like this is to manipulate the reader's emotions into feeling bad for a scared student. Meanwhile, for all we know, that student is also scared of the dark.
4. “Analysis” – A technicality that rarely appears in the headline itself. Often from large mainstream organizations, the word is intended to mean that the article is a more in-depth look at a topic. In reality, it's an opinion piece. “Donald Trump Has No Idea Why He Wants a Second Term” – CNN. As if the author of this piece actually asked Trump why he’s running for reelection.
5. The word “You” – “XYZ And What It Means For You.” Usually “you” have nothing to do with the story. The authors just try to connect the reader to the story in a way that gets an emotional reaction and will support the author’s side. Quite often they’re also an excuse for leaving out important facts under the guise of them "not being relevant to the reader". "What The New Republican Health Care Plan Means For You" – Breitbart. Do you even need to read it to know that the author thinks the health care plan is awesome?
In fact, most of the things on it are only applicable to opinion pieces. Straight news stories are even more subtle and deserve their own article.
However, the vast majority of headlines seen on social media are opinion dressed up as news. Thus, while small, we hope this list provides a good place to start for anyone that wants to begin cutting through the spin that accompanies online content.
Do you think Headlines are Effective at Influencing Opinion?