From ANONYMOUS (“As a relatively young journalist still trying to make it, I’d ask that you please not use my name”): The Houston Chronicle’s website today has the headline “Member of The Killers commits suicide.” I clicked it, and was linked to a video from E!
Interestingly, the AP article specifically says the deceased was not a full member of the band but did appear on tours and performed on albums in 2006 and 2008. In short, it appears a musician who played with The Killers died. That’s different from what the headline said.
This seems to be a trend that I’m seeing a lot lately: stretching the truth of a headline just a little bit in order to get clicks. Earlier this year, USA TODAY played a little fast and loose with a headline on it’s mobile app indicating that one of the Nationals hit a home run ball that struck his truck, but if you read the story, it appeared this was probably just a rumor (my letter to them that went unanswered is below).
Anyway, please keep me anonymous since I don’t want to get blackballed from journalism community. But if you start looking for this trend, you’re definitely going to see it. Again, this isn’t outright inaccurate headlines, but there are headlines that just stretch the truth a little bit. In some ways, I think that’s more damaging.
My own thoughts are that the young web producers who are under pressure to accumulate hits put their desire for traffic over their desire for an accurate headline, and the bigwigs either don’t know this is happening or are enjoying the results too much to really care.
The letter to USA Today that went unanswered:
I’m a big fan of USA TODAY (a former intern no less) and always love its coverage, particularly of Major League Baseball. But I am a little bit concerned about today’s headline regarding Washington National Jayson Werth hitting a homerun ball that may have struck his own truck. As of 6:11 p.m. today, on the paper’s mobile app, the headline reads “Jayson Werth’s home-run ball hits his truck.” On the website,
it’s couched a bit more, as “Jayson Werth: Home-run ball struck his own truck.”
The problem is, if you read the story, neither is exactly true.
USA TODAY reports that Werth hit a home-run “clear out of the stadium, and right into Werth’s very own truck – or so a groundskeeper told him.” Werth himself goes on to say that he hadn’t confirmed the story and, for now, it’s just “folklore.”
This is a fun story, and I love a little bit of baseball legend as much as anyone else. But both headlines are probably inaccurate. The mobile app headline reports it as fact (even though USA TODAY hadn’t apparently confirmed the story). And the online headline makes it seem that Werth is making the claim, even though seems to be skeptical.
The Washington Post handled the situation appropriately, reporting in its online headline, “Jayson Werth may have his his own truck with a long home-run.”
This is a silly, fun baseball story, so I know I risk sounding like a killjoy. But it may be worth examining whether USA TODAY is willing to have a lower-standard for accuracy in headlines on its mobile and web platforms in an effort to gin up clicks. I hope this isn’t the case.