Mindless Headlines

I prefer to read, rather than watch or listen to the news. I click the X at the top of nearly every news video, scrolling to read the story beneath, sometimes punching out to my favorite search engine (NOT Google, but that’s a story for another post) to find further information or explanation and detail.

But to do this, I must suffer the monotonous and apparently endless onslaught of absurd “human interest” stories that populate the sides and bottom of my screen as I attempt to determine what is and is not actually happening in the world.   “Remember her? What she looks like now is insane!” multiple headlines trumpet—insane apparently being a finalist for the Misused Word of the Year. “Local Mom finds solution….” – Mom having somehow transmuted to code for “trustworthy person”.  (Grandmother runs a close second in this ridiculous portrayal.) “Her shocking sex confession…” Oh, for the love of heaven. Nobody is going to be shocked, and who the hell cares, anyway?  “This famous person’s horrible health habit…”  Which is probably something that three-quarters of us do, and while we may consider it less than healthy, it isn’t horrible. “This photo is driving the internet crazy…”  No it isn’t.  Nobody cares, because it’s not even interesting. “His cancer journey” another caption or three or four declare.  Listen, I’ve had cancer and it’s not a journey,  nor a trip, a voyage, or an expedition.  It’s a slowly-unwinding nightmare of tests and surgeries, of tears and emotional anguish, punctuated by bouts unremitting fear.

The English language is full and flavorful, and there are numerous better adjectives, captions, headings and descriptors than those that are so constantly bandied about. It’s a pathetic form of journalism which selects a single simple, mindless word or phrase and lodges upon it for months to years at a time.

No doubt those who write these inane headlines use such repetitive phrasing because they believe it will capture the attention of a populace that, by and large today, does not read. (Either that, or the writers are as cluelessly incapable of composition as their subscribers are of discernment.) In any case, their philosophy seems to be: Hook ‘em quickly and reel ‘em in, and they’ll be sure to punch out to the click bait with all its accompanying inescapable ads.

I think this sloppy attitude does a grave injustice to the reading public, but then, I like to read—not to be read to, not to view.  For much the same reason, I don’t order the accompanying audible stories to my e-books.  I want to read a story—to invest the author’s words with my own subtle interpretation of phrasing and emphasis—not to listen to another’s version.  (I felt much the same way when, as a high school student, I listened to a recording of T.S. Elliot reading his poem, “The Hollow Men”.  It was awful. Simply awful. I much preferred the version of his poem that I heard in my own head.)

All of this may just go to prove my complete arrogance regarding my own skill in reading, but the simple truth remains: I am a reader. I chose to be informed and entertained by reading.  I find delight and sometimes surprise in a well-turned phrase, and in detail that easily escapes one when merely viewing or listening to a story.  I search carefully in each news story for subtle sarcasm, for overt editorializing, and for contradictory statements.  None of those details are available in the sound bites of a news video.

As for the monotonous scattering of repetitive nouns and adjectives limning so many headlines, they simply insult my intelligence. Sadly, though, with regard to all too many members of the populace, I fear discernment in reading is a fast-fading skill.

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