The Story is More Than Its Headline

July 11, 2017 - 10:23am

Increasingly, I have noticed that the art of debate is starting to lose its footing.

I blame social media.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media. I use social media in my personal life and extensively in my working life. As the Community Affairs Editor of; and – I use social media to find out what you are doing in your communities; I use social media to extend the reach of our publications by linking YOUR stories to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.

But the problem is this: we have too much information.

In my opinion, the human brain was never meant to know so much information from all around the world, every minute of every day. We have shares on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN; we have 24 hours per day news channels in every media form.

The result, I believe, is that many people, myself included often, get their news from around the world from headlines.

People read or see or hear a headline and instantly form an opinion.

The problem is, most news stories are vastly more complex than what a headline can describe.

For most of my career, I have written headlines. I write approximately 9 headlines per day – minimum.

Here’s the thing.

 I have approximately eight words to describe the story. In Community News stories – this isn’t that problematic.

In intensive news coverage – it is nearly impossible to fully describe the details of a complex story with many elements – in eight words.

Yet many, many people are reading those eight words and forming an opinion which they go on to share …on social media; in their lives. These opinions shape who people are and how they see the world.

To make it worse, there are news agencies that use headlines as bait and then proceed, in story, to give the most controversial information in the lead and then very gradually describe all the information.

There are too many recent examples to even consider naming one.

But those of us who use social media know this is true. Increasingly there are posts with people trying to lay out facts of a story – that was in a published story -but arguments still ensue and continue and usually degenerate.

Decisions have been made on a headline – opinions made, and nothing will change that for many people.

This is so dangerous and discredits all of us who form an opinion without reading all the facts, not just the information that aligns with the ideas we have decided are true.

This is dangerous because knee-jerk reactions without full knowledge of all the facts often leads to meanness, to prejudice, to less tolerance. This – in a time when our world is growing smaller; in a time when we need to be patient and accepting and calm more than ever in history.

We just have so much information. I know it is challenging to read many sources on a story before letting your opinion be formed.

So read, listen, watch – and then respectfully debate.

Debate is good when all parties are well informed. Debate is what humans have traditionally done to try to find truth.

Don’t let the person you are be shaped by headlines. We are all better than that.

If you read this whole thing - you are not the problem. Thank you for reading! I wish I had a prize.

Have a great week!

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