Last night I climbed into bed knowing exactly what I would write about in the morning, but alas, I awoke to find that the Seattle Times had snatched my precious snark right out from under my pillow. Sorta.
The headline on the front page of the Times last night was stark and scary: “Seattle sees sharp increase in crime.” Oh no! Good thing we’ve kicked out that incompetent Mayor Nickels and his soft-on-crime staff.
But the lede of the article the headline linked to seemed to hail from a different story:
Even though Seattle saw increases in both violent crimes and property crimes during the first half of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, the slight rise came after back-to-back years that saw crime dip to lows not seen since the 1960s.
Wait… the headline said “sharp increase,” but the lede says “slight rise”… and from record lows. And while the lede says that “violent crimes” rose during the first half of 2009, the article goes on to point out that the worst of these crimes—murders and rapes—both decreased from the same period a year ago.
Ahh… this is the sort of irresponsible hyperbole for which I live to abuse the Times. Unfortunately, as I slept, the editors repented and changed the headline to the less provocative and much more accurate: “Seattle sees increase in crime after two record-low years.”
Oh. I guess Mayor Nickels didn’t do such a bad job after all.
The point is, as I’ve argued before, headlines matter, and can do more to influence public perception than the articles themselves. Because quite honestly, more people will read the headline than the actual article.
And now, with only one major Seattle newspaper left in publication, the Times’ headline writers have more influence than ever before… and thus more responsibility than ever before to get it right.