Possibilities, speculation and over generalisation
Too much of today’s ‘news’ stories are based around possibilities or speculation, and over generalisation.
Examples like this are normally hidden behind a headline that portrays a possibility as fact first such as ‘SIX inches of snow will hit Britain’ followed by the article that says that the ‘parts of the UK COULD be covered in snow for days in high lying rural areas’.
Modals verbs: “may,” “might,” “can,” “could,” and “ought”
These verbs are all modal verbs, which are used by some journalists to change the verb’s meaning to something different from simple fact. Modals express possibility, ability, prediction, permission, and necessity.
Newspaper headlines often imply something as definitely happening. The subtext following is often something less certain and the possibility element seeps out underneath the headline.
This is not helpful to the readers who just see a headline and don’t get to read the detail underneath. A passer by will see we are getting six inches of snow. The reader will see that it is unlikely in low lying areas such as many cities. This deception and misleading by newspapers isn’t helpful to the validity of knowledge imparting from the experts via this third party – the newspaper and I don’t think it should be allowed.
The use of modal verbs after a definitive headline is not at all responsible. Either something is going to happen or it is a possibility it is going to happen.
Over generalising in headlines sees confidence in the journalistic profession drop even further each time it is used.
Headlines need to be catchy to catch the eye of the reader but they also need to be related accurately to the article underneath.
There is a growing trend online for what is known as clickbait. This is where a sensationalist headline or question is trying to draw you in click the link to their site. The longer you stay on their site, the more likely you may be to click through the adverts where they make money each time you click let alone the commission they get when you buy from their advertisers.
This has crept into becoming more mainstream with news outlets tweeting to try and draw you in to visit their site and get to spend more time on their site. Click here to see what so and so said. It’s more likely not an exciting article and it’s often an article based on other people’s tweets anyway! Now I’m bordering on generalising myself!
Editors and writers have a duty to not mislead
Anyway, back to the use of misleading headlines and inconsistency relating to modal verbs. The more that this occurs, and it may have been happening subconsciously for so many people, the less faith people will have in what they read online and in newspapers.
Editors and writers have a duty to their readers to have a certain level of gravitas to show that their writing and their publication can be trusted and is not misleading.
Have this in mind next time you see some of these examples happening. You can believe a lot of what you read online and in newspapers still, but you need to be able to ascertain for yourself what style of writing is being used as to whether they are trying to mislead you and other readers.