How headlines are ruining civilization

All Things Digital | Wired

The Los Angeles Times scored a key victory recently, winning the top search result when people searched "what time are the Academy Awards," Peter Kafka writes.

Anyone dismayed by the newsroom resources thrown at such seemingly puny rewards is "probably going to be in an ever-shrinking minority," Kafka writes, citing a tweet by Wall Street Journal digital macher Raju Narisetti:


The HTML title of Kafka's post is "The Academy Awards Are on at 830 on ABC, You're Welcome."

Organizations like Upworthy, The Onion and BuzzFeed pour tremendous effort into headlines, Ryan Tate writes in Wired. The weaponized headline "is now the cornerstone of emailed political appeals, the fulcrum of crowdsourcing capital on Kickstarter, and arguably the basis of an entire communications medium, the all-headlines microblogging system Twitter."

At BuzzFeed, a website famous for its baiting headlines, writers can enter multiple titles and the publishing software will test them against one another to figure out which garners the most clicks. The Awl’s Choire Sicha recently cataloged some of patterns that have emerged from these sorts of experiments, including heads that start with “Watch this,” “Meet the,” “Here’s the,” and “Take a Break and…”

Still, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti tells Tate working too hard on headlines is a "dangerous game” that can "manipulate readers into clicking stories they don’t actually want to read." (And yet BuzzFeed headlines snare me at least twice per day. The most recent BF story to which my lizard brain responded: 17 People Whose Lives Went Downhill Fast.)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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