I want to look at a headline in today’s Guardian with a critical eye. It’s called, “Putin’s disturbing message for the west: your rules don’t apply: Litinenko findings further highlight Russian president’s paranoid nationalism and international indifference.”
The headline caught my attention this morning because it is so didactic. The Guardian isn’t even pretending at subtlety anymore—its headlines now conveniently contain the reader’s expected reaction. There are two ways to read “disturbing:” One: that the Guardian assumes its readers will be disturbed. In that case, subtlety is best. A good comedian does not say, “This joke will really make you laugh: here I go!” It’s cringe-worthy in both cases. The second way is that the journalist himself thought it was disturbing. That is a good way to write opinion columns and a bad way to write news. If the journalist was confident enough that Putin’s attitude was disturbing, he could have easily said, “Putin’s Message to the West: Your Rules Don’t Apply,” and the journalist could go on to defend that gathering (that Putin’s message is indeed “your rules don’t apply,”) in a reasonable and logical way (the journalist does not do that very well). May I please have the information about Putin’s “message for the west” before I decide if I am disturbed? Maybe I will be disturbed, but to inform me of my own future reaction has put me off right from the very start.
Prepare to be “disturbed,” Guardian readers. Putin has said something that will disturb you. Read on! The Guardian has slipped into the clickbait habits of some of its internet-born fellows like BuzzFeed, introducing the story with a cliff-hanger. In my experience, a hefty headline like this must lead to a let-down of a story. In an age of over-hype, I am exhausted. The same way we have all learned to identify a clickbait headline or an ad, we are beginning to know how to identify a tabloid: over-hype. What I want is straight-forwardness. Of course there will always be bias in news, but I predict (and hope for) a quick shift as readers learn to trust news and distrust tabloids. Tell me the news and tell it plain. Stop with the clickbait.
Is it too much to hope for that a newspaper could print a news story that is really just facts about events? Maybe a bit of a catch up on the history of the situation? Could the journalist at least pretend to make an effort to hide biases? It comes down to a lack of trust of the reader—The Guardian thinks it knows what its readers should think about this, so they leave fact holes in the story and a big shiny red button of a headline. I hope readers notice when they’re being talked down to and I hope they stay skeptical.