Out There: Just Read the Damn Article

“It’s all about the headline.”

When I first started writing, my handlers hammered this notion into my head repeatedly. Sure, the content of an article is important, they said, but it doesn’t matter much if it doesn’t have a shocking, droll, or otherwise attention-grabbing headline to get readers to open the magazine or click on the link.

Over the years, however, the function of a headline has changed from getting people in the door to becoming the main attraction itself. In today’s scroll-through-Twitter society, most people don’t read past the headline. Sometimes they read the one-sentence summary below the headline (known in the biz as a lede), but rarely do they click on the link or read the article itself.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating, a new study has discovered that 59 percent of links shared on social media have never been clicked: In other words, most people appear to share news without actually reading it. We take a summary-of-a-summary glimpsed on Twitter or Facebook as fact, and we’re all the dumber for it.

Take my husband, for example. A few months ago, he saw a story in his Facebook feed titled “Dark Chocolate Boosts Exercise Performance.”

“Look at this, babe,” he said with glee. “Chocolate will make me faster!”

This explains why Neil is currently on his third brownie of the day. He has yet to set a PR this season. (Imagine that!)

Had he actually read the story, he’d know that a British study on chocolate consumption was conducted on nine cyclists. Nine. That’s hardly enough data to make the sweeping generalization of “Chocolate Boosts Exercise Performance.” Yet that’s the headline, because a world where chocolate is an ergogenic aid is a world we all want to live in, dammit.

And so it goes for almost every headline these days. “Running Will Kill You,” the headlines blare, justifying your Uncle Mel’s decision to remain firmly on the couch, smugly anticipating your impending demise. “Red Wine Is a Health Food,” we cite as we pour ourselves a second (okay, fine, fourth) glass. “Pasta is an Evil Gluten Monster,” unless a pasta company sponsors a study this week, in which case “Athletes Should Eat Pasta Every Day.” “Beer Aids Marathon Recovery,” people say smartly as they order a pint, oblivious to the caveat that it’s non-alcoholic beer that’s proven to have regenerative properties.

Don’t be that guy. Read the damn article. Follow the sources. Get the full story.

But if we insist on continuing down this path of sharing without reading, I’d like to propose a few headlines and ledes that I think will really take off on social media:

 Beet Industry Admits Product Tastes Disgusting
“We targeted runners because they’ll eat anything if you tell them it’s ‘performance-enhancing,’ industry insider confesses.”

Pokemon GO Tricks Millions Into Running Marathon
“People who ‘hate running’ and ‘have bad knees’ will sprint nonstop between strategically placed Pikachus; public health officials declare covert intervention for obesity a success.”

 National Park Service to Outlaw Horse Poop on Trails
“Move comes after runners begin dropping deuces mid-trail in protest.”

 New iPhone Detects, Averts Post-Race Humblebragging
“App sends small taser shocks to runners who backdoor brag, preventing millions of annoyed eye rolls worldwide.”

White Spandex Shorts Sap Male Athletes Of Strength
“Experts say men should not wear garment–not during races, not to yoga, not ever.”

Kenyan Athletes Warm Up By Jogging to Rio Olympics
“Team foregoes private jet from Africa, claiming flight would be ‘too slow.’”

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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