“Puppy nips toddler”

“Dog bites kid”

“Canine savages boy”

 

One message. Three headlines.

The power of headlines

Have you ever considered the power of a headline? It sets the tone for everything you’re about to read.

But every story has three headlines. One that attempts to be objective and straightforward and two that try to influence you—either positively or negatively.

Are you skilled to recognise which one you’re reading?

Do you recognise the slant?

There is a time to put a slant on things. For instance, an opinion piece or an editorial is an appropriate place for giving opinions and reporting events through the lens of our interpretation.

But if you’re reading a news item or a piece that purports to report, it is crucial that you are able to pick the biases. If a news source continually offers heavily biased headlines, you’ve got to read that source with a healthy dose of scepticism.

How to recognise bias

What are some common forms of bias in headlines? Here are a few that come to mind…

  • Watch out for connotative words. For instance, “nip” and “savage” both carry the idea of “bite,” but give very different mental pictures of what happened. Honest reporting tends to use annotative words.
  • Strongly emotive language is also an indicator of bias. Facts tend to be fairly neutral emotionally. Opinions tend to be more volatile. “Wild dog viciously bites innocent kid.” These highly charged words tend to turn up the heat.
  • Watch out for those adjectives and adverbs. These words describe nouns and verbs and modify, or add slant to, them. For instance “Wild dog viciously bites innocent kid.” Do the adjectives/adverb add to the accuracy of the report or merely interpret the meaning?
  • A somewhat less obvious way to show bias is to report the facts of what someone said. “Dog should be put down says mother of boy.” While this is a perfectly accurate report of what the mother said, it tends to show bias toward one position merely by focusing the report on that position.
  • Another form of bias is the let-down-expectation. “Canine not to be put down.” This headline assumes that putting it down is right and reports society’s failure to comply with the author’s expectations.
  • Then there’s the suggestive headline. “Mother at fault in dog attack?” It gives an opinion without ever giving it.

As believers, we must love truth and hold ourselves to high standards of integrity.

Grace to you.

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About Jason Harris

Jason is a writer, pastor, and academic. He has authored multiple books, articles, and papers including his book Theological Meditations on the Gospel. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research. He is currently working on his PhD from James Cook University as well as serving as pastor at CrossPoint Church. Jason has lived in Cairns, Australia since 2007. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

5 Comments

  1. PJ 7 October, 2010 at 6:41 am - Reply

    “What are some other key indicators of bias?”

    If the headline appears in a News Ltd publication!

  2. Jason Harris 7 October, 2010 at 11:27 am - Reply

    =P

  3. PJ 8 October, 2010 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    missed Mr Basic’s learned musings over my Weet-Bix this morning…

  4. Mel 11 October, 2010 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    That was a flash back to English class in High School. Very good thoughts and something to keep an eye out for.

  5. Joy 21 November, 2022 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    Very true! It’s troubling that some news sources are consistently slanted and state their opinion as fact. Very concise, important post. Thanks!

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