There are several ways to read this ambiguous headline from today’s Seattle Times, but I’m guessing that for the region’s transit skeptics the message is loud and clear: us taxpayers are gonna have to pick up the cost of yet another Sound Transit screw up.
But if you glanced at today’s Seattle P-I, you might come away with an entirely differently impression.
To be fair, both papers accurately report the story, as demonstrated by the Times’ succinct lede: “The long-term cost of extending light-rail beyond Seattle is about $7 billion less than Sound Transit previously said, according to revised figures the agency issued Friday.” But not every reader reads beyond the headline on every story.
I’m not implying any conscious bias or intent to mislead; the Times headline was most likely just a poor choice of words. But as I’ve previously argued (with little sympathy from my colleagues in the legacy media,) headlines and ledes do matter, and they shape the way readers interpret otherwise factual reporting. Most reporters and editors claim to be objective — and no doubt, most attempt to live up to that goal — but what they choose to report, what words they choose to use, which facts they emphasize and where these stories are placed in the paper are all subjective decisions.
I have no formal journalistic training apart from a single high school class and a couple years on the school paper, but I do remember being taught to put the most important information near the top (a rule I routinely violate, usually for literary reasons.) And, um… you can’t get much nearer the top than the headline.