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It's Thalen's Turn Column: How do you get your news?

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

How do you get your news? Do you watch it on an "unbiased" TV network? Or listen to it on the radio or from a preferred podcast streaming service? Perhaps you read the article, whether it is online or in print.

However you choose to receive your information, I sincerely hope you get the whole story.

There are many, perhaps too many, "informed" people who get all the information they feel they need simply from reading the headline. I hate to burst their bubble, but headlines are not news; they are not even the story. Most of the time, a headline gives a very vague representation of what the story is actually about.

According to Meriam-Webster, the definition of a headline is as follows: Words set at the head of a passage or page to introduce or categorize; a head of a newspaper story or article usually printed in large type and giving the gist of the story or article that follows.

"Gist" is a keyword in the definition. A headline gives you the gist of a story, so the reader gets an idea of what they are about to read, but not the story in its entirety. Often times headlines are barely that. Usually, they are a marketing tactic to attract the reader by using colorful and flashy words. The most creative writing you get in the news is a headline. Beyond that, the story should be fact-based, straight to the point, no bias, no nonsense.

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If a journalist writes a long story explaining complex issues, a headline just isn't going to sum it up. We use headlines to attract the reader into the story because we hope the reader ACTUALLY reads it.

Currently, we are in the 'Information Age,' a time when information and knowledge are more easily accessible than they once were. With just a few clicks and typing, almost any question you require answering can be answered, all in the palm of your hand. But with information comes misinformation.

In a research survey conducted by The American Press Institute and The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research — an initiative called the Media Insight Project — to better understand news consumers, only four out of 10 Americans disclose they read beyond the headline.

What usually happens is someone scrolls through social media, notices a headline that looks like the story might affirm an opinion of theirs. So, they hit the "share" button. They didn't take time to read the full story because the headline was enough to confirm their beliefs. The person can be made a fool when this happens, as the article might not actually validate what they believed was true at all.

Fullfact.org published an article that includes examples of misleading headlines: "A headline in the Independent said: "France sees 70 cases linked to schools days after reopening." At the time, with schools reopening in Europe, and about to reopen in the UK, there was some concern that this might cause a resurgence of COVID infections, which this headline suggests was happening. However, the article itself provides some vital missing context lower down, explaining that these people were "likely" to have been infected before France's schools actually reopened. In other words, they may have involved people who were staff or pupils, but they were probably not "linked" to the fact that schools had reopened at all."

There are many more examples of this, and I am sure our readers can provide some of their own.

Now, misleading headlines can lead to trouble. The author of the misleading headline should have written a headline that more accurately describes the story's content. But, as mentioned above, the headline is not the story. It is just a tool to attract the reader to READ THE STORY. Anyone who shared information from the headline is now guilty of spreading misinformation.

If you actually want to be informed, read the article as it was intended, but also, don't take the author's word for it. Dig deep into the sources provided, research the topic for yourself from multiple perspectives and references. If they contrast each other, dig into the why. If they compare, keep digging until you find an opposing viewpoint and see what argument is stronger. Then form your own opinion and confidently argue your side.

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As a journalist, I am just giving the reader the information I obtained. But, there is always more information out there.

Don't be a headline reader, just be a reader.

Oh, and memes are not news sources. Just saying.

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTY
Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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