Sensational Headlines, Accurate Reporting

We are all spinners of truth. We should tell it like it is, but we are all spinners of truth. In my newspaper, the editors all insisted on sensationalizing the headlines. Their reasoning is that the public would be interested in buying.

There is no harm in making headlines larger than they seem. They serve as covers to the stories under them. Take for instance Alice in Wonderland. It would be a hard sell if it was titled The Young Girl Who Fell in a Rabbit’s Hole.

We love good stories told well. Our cavemen and cavewomen ancestors must have gathered at the evening campfires to hear stories from their elders. We are programmed to love to hear stories.

It is the reporting that should and must be clear, accurate, and fair. Or the public will lose trust in you.

A 2018 Knight Foundation and Gallup poll suggested that people start losing faith in the news media when the stories are inaccurate, biased, or sensationalized. When people were asked why they don’t trust the media, about 45 percent referred to things like inaccuracy, bias, and “fake news.”

A general lack of credibility and the fact that reports are “based on opinions or emotions” are two of the other reasons given for a loss of trust, according to the poll. About 10 percent of those surveyed also mentioned sensationalism, “clickbait,” or hype as a negative factor. Interestingly, twice as many young adults (18 to 34) as older respondents said political partisan bias was a factor in their lack of trust.

This report may seem bleak, but there is hope for the future of journalism. For example, the survey asked people whether they thought their trust in media might be restored somehow, and almost 70 percent of them said yes.

How do you restore the trust of the American public? Poll respondents answered when the media provides accuracy, fairness, and transparency – providing fact-checking resources and links to research and facts – in their news reporting, they will regain their trust.

Journalists serve an important role in our democracy, serving as checks on government. The freedom of the press is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, according to a recent Huffington Post blog, because the press maintains an educated citizenry and a transparent government.

Without media sources from the national media to small-town newspapers covering the White House to the courthouse, the public interest would not be fully served.

“The power of the periodical press is second only to that of the people,” wrote French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, one of the definitive works on early America.

Keep in mind, write fairly and accurately, highlight the headlines, and always make them want to come back for more. Our Democracy is counting on your reporting skills done well.

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