This Is Why You Just Can’t Read the Headlines

Back in December, I wrote a post about how I had taken a quiz on my knowledge of stories from last year’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

“…since I read, and tweet, the WSJ every day, and often reference stories from the Journal in my classes, I thought this is the type of quiz that should be right up my alley.

Well things started off pretty well; it was a 30 question, multiple choice quiz, and I got the first 11 correct. Then I fell apart; my final score was a pathetic 19 out of 30, or 63%. In my line of work, that’s a “D”.

The results made me reflect on how I read the Journal, and I realized a lot of my reading consists of just reading the headline, and then the first paragraph of the story. I assumed by doing so I was getting the overall gist of the story.

That may be true to some extent, but clearly I was missing the details of the stories…”

I closed the post vowing to do a better job this year, but if anything, I’ve probably gotten worse.

Well today there was a story that may provide some motivation for me, and others, to make sure we read past the headlines.

NPR published a story yesterday with the headline “Get Off The Couch Baby Boomers, Or You May Not Be Able To Later“.

The story was about the health risks of prolonged sitting, particularly for those between the ages of 50 and 71.

Well according to Ed Mazza at the Huffington Post, a lot of Trump supporters just read the headline, and thought it was an insult directed at them. They then took to Twitter to voice their displeasure:

As you might imagine, there was also a flurry of tweets ridiculing the above tweeters for having completely missed what the story was actually about:

When I read the original NPR article, it took me less than 20 seconds of reading the story to realize it was about the dangers of sitting for prolonged period of time.

But as shown by my reading of the WSJ, I’m often just as guilty as the Trump supporters were in their reading of just the headline of the NPR story.

The difference is that while I may retweet a story based just on the headline (in my case, retweets do not imply endorsement), I don’t think I would tweet a strong opinion one way or the other about an article based just on the headline.

For example, saying “we have 2 WORK 2pay 4YOUR food stamps&free stuff!” simply because of the headline seems to be taking quite a risk that you are way off base.

So it’s a cautionary tale as old as time; you can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge a story by its headline.


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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

2 thoughts on “This Is Why You Just Can’t Read the Headlines”

  1. I’m guilty of skimming headlines, but I wouldn’t tweet about it unless I read the story, and the point of your post is why.


    Quick question: Where did you get the graphic? I’d love to use it for a post, but I don’t see a source/credit.



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