SURVEY SAYS: The Power of Headlines

NewsDash readers share how much they trust, or distrust, headlines.

A survey Conducted by OnePoll in partnership with Zakat Foundation of America, a U.S.-based humanitarian organization, found eight in 10 people confessed they’ve reacted to an online article solely based on its headline. But most respondents (89%) disagreed with their initial reaction after reading the entire story.

A headline can cause us to make assumptions or develop opinions; it can make us want to read more or pass a story by.

Last week, I asked NewsDash readers, “Do you trust headlines you see in traditional and social media?” I also asked, “Can a headline alone make you want to pursue the bigger story?”

More than half (54%) of responding readers work in a plan sponsor role, more than one-quarter (27%) work for/are recordkeepers/TPAs/investment consultants, 15% are advisers/consultants, and 4% are attorneys.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) said they do not trust headlines they see in traditional or social media to accurately reflect the topic of the story or a particular situation. Only 4% said they do. The rest indicated they trust traditional media headlines, but not social media headlines.

Nearly two-thirds of responding readers said a headline alone does not always determine whether they want to pursue the bigger story or not, while 19% said it does and 15% said it doesn’t.

The sentiment among those readers who chose to leave comments was general distrust of what they called “click bait” on any type of media. Commenters opined about the biases in media and the attempt to sway opinions, and also offered a warning to look further into what you read. Editor’s Choice goes to the reader whose comment helped me correct/clarify a subhead on one of our articles. Thank you to all who responded to our survey.


Headlines are often the purview of an editor (who is trying to draw you in) rather than the author of the piece – which accounts for the frequent disconnects between the two. Between that, and the realization that “if it bleeds, it leads”, I think the process feeds/fuels negativity, and an overall sense that all is not right and good in our world. And, btw, that includes OUR (retirement) world. Until human nature changes, though – I suspect we are stuck with it… but trust? Heck, i don’t trust ANY media anymore. I triangulate as much as I can to get to the truth/reality, discount completely sources that obviously live in some alternative universe, and pine for the days when social media and government didn’t feel the need – or have the opportunity – to censor differing points of view.

The term “click bait” is very appropriately used describing how media attempt to pull us into their stories. In many cases it is meant to manipulate us toward a way of thinking. Minimally, it is luring us closer to where advertisers are located allowing more revenue to be produced for the source. It can be entertaining to look at the headline for a story in CNN followed by the headline for the same story on FOX. It doesn’t matter if you like one or the other, there is clearly a bias in both.

Unfortunately, the media no longer just reports the news, their goal now is to control the narrative and “make the news.”

Trust headlines? 3 words….NOT. AT. ALL.

There’s also the image that is associated with the headline. If the headline and image don’t make sense, I’m a sucker for reading the article to figure out what the author is trying to convey. Often, I find myself in a conversation referring to a headline, and not the entire article, as if it were fact. But I always tell my audience if I only read the headline. It is always fun when I actually read an article and I can tell someone else only read the heading. LOL

Headlines can carry one or two agendas–one to garner reads (clicks) and the other to shape political/social ideals. More often than not a deeper read of one or more articles is needed to get a full picture of the facts. Take today’s headline and subheading in the PLANSPONSOR email: “ERISA Suit Against Nationwide Moves Ahead, The consolidated lawsuit alleges Nationwide negotiated contract terms for its guaranteed investment fund that maximized its profits.” Taken by itself, knowing Nationwide offers GIC’s, well, why wouldn’t they attempt to maximize profits through their fund? It’s what businesses do. There is no reference in the headline that the suit is over their own plan, so is it self-dealing in their own plan or is it a possible meritless suit over a company charging fees for its services? You have to get to the third paragraph of the story to see the suit is over conflict of interest in their own 401(k) plan.

Headlines are hooks to get you to form an opinion and if you read the article you may get a better understanding of the facts, but sometimes the article is written in a way to sway you to embrace a point of view. I know – cynical but we have to be careful and think about what we read.

Headlines have always been “click bait”. They are too often used just to grab attention. Too many times, in both the MSM and social media, the story is totally different from the headline. If I remember correctly, “headline writer” is an actual job, separate from reporting stories.

There is so much clickbait out there these days. I never trust a headline alone because nine times out of ten, it doesn’t reflect the actual story. If find this is true even with traditional news outlets.

I think headlines aren’t meant to give a summary of the article, but rather try to invoke emotion, whether positive or negative, to get you to read the story. I try to look at headlines to determine if the topic itself is of interest to me, not what the headline wants me to think.

Social media proves many people don’t read beyond the headlines….heck, don’t read at all!

I never automatically trust anything I read in the media anymore no matter the medium.

The social media ‘click-bait’ headlines can be so very misleading, it’s concerning to think some people read a headline and think they know the story. The lack of peer review and accountability on social media is concerning, to say the least.

I have a journalism degree from a top 10 program, and I still have been “tricked” on social media. Some headlines are click bait, indeed, and I am far less naïve and much more careful now than I was when I first started using these platforms. I also look at the source when determining whether or not to click. If I haven’t heard of it, not only will I assume the information is suspect, I also will wonder if clicking will infect my system with spyware, malware, viruses, etc.


NOTE: Responses reflect the opinions of individual readers and not necessarily the stance of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) or its affiliates.