Get It Through Your Headline
I’m an unapologetic headline reader. In the days of foldable news it was a quick, guilt-free way to get to the Sports and Entertainment sections. Now, with the explosion of news-aggregating websites, the A.D.D. headline consumer has never had more ways to get a fix.
The Drudge Report pioneered this format, a decidedly partisan news website that is all headlines, all the time. Recently, Drudge got company from the other side of the political spectrum in the Huffington Post. Huffington adds columnists to the mix, but the idea is the same as Drudge: headlines, headlines, headlines. News you can peruse.
While not all of us content providers have axes to grind the size they carry at Drudge and Huffington, the ongoing headline spin war between the two sites is a helpful reminder to all editors, writers and marketers to keep in mind not only what headlines say about your content, but also what they say about you.
The following is a quick comparison of a few headlines that appeared simultaneously on both sites.
Remember when President Obama addressed the Energy Department in early February regarding the as yet unpassed stimulus package?
Drudge: “The Fear: Pass It Now or We May Never Recover”
Huffington: “Obama Goes After Critics: ‘Are These Folks Serious?’ ”
Then, after the house passed the stimulus bill on partisan lines and a similar senate vote seemed inevitable:
Drudge: “Stimulus Deal Reached: $780,000,000,000.00”
Huffington: “Senate Reaches Tentative Stimulus Deal”
Finally, even innocuous stories, like Bill Gates’ stunt of releasing a handful of mosquitoes at a speech to drive home the point of preventing malaria, get spun:
Drudge: “Bill Gates Unleashes Swarm of Mosquitoes on Crowd”
Huffington: “Bill Gates Frees Swarm of Mosquitoes on Audience”
News aggregators often link to nearly identical news stories, the only difference being how they’re portrayed in that site’s headline. Read Drudge, and the President is a fear-monger, the Senate is filled with 12-figure (14 if we’re counting pennies) free-spenders and Bill Gates is a mad scientist or comic book super villain. Read Huffington, and Obama is a mature adult, the Senate is filled with careful policy-makers and Bill Gates kind of sounds like a magician.
While most content providers will never inhabit one of the ideological poles of a Drudge Report or Huffington Post, their examples in spin show how just a few words can change the perception of an entire story. It’s a simple lesson, but still a helpful reminder to always be aware of how you treat the mosquitoes.