The headlines of news articles are there to give readers a preview of the content in the body of the story: just a snapshot. Journalists and fact-checkers can squeeze keywords and a statement into a headline, but there's one thing that usually can't fit: context. This is why it's important to read past the headline in order to gather the full scope of the subject that's being presented.
In 2014, NPR posted to Facebook a news article with the headline "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore?" The caption of the Facebook post read: "What has become of our brains?"
In the comments, many users replied with their opinions of the questions in the headline and Facebook post. It appeared that they hadn't clicked to read the article. Had they done so, they would have realized that it was an April Fools' Day message from NPR. The story read:
Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools' Day!
We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven't actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let's see what people have to say about this "story."
Best wishes and have an enjoyable day,
Your friends at NPR
NPR's aim was to remind users of an important point. The fact is that there is value in the stories beyond the snapshot of a headline and a picture presented in social media posts.
Four Years Later
In 2018, NPR posted the story again, this time on Twitter. The tweet's caption read: "Americans just don't read like they used to."
Once again, people fell for it and replied with their opinions about the headline, "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore?" It appeared that they didn't click to see that it was an old April Fools' prank. "Well played," one user tweeted.
Context Is Crucial
In the same vein, there's also value in the context provided in the main body of our fact check articles, beneath the claims and true/false ratings.
The fact is that a claim and rating, just like a headline, are simply a brief preview of the factual information and context at the core of our reporting. The same goes for articles from all fact-checking organizations.
Our focus on the importance of context over headlines and true/false ratings comes at a unique and troubling time. In recent years, the number of local newspapers has been in decline, online news companies have been struggling to remain staffed amid traffic dropping off (resulting in less revenue), and misinformation and disinformation continue to thrive during an unsettling period in which disease and war are at the forefront.
Today, it may be more important than ever before to read past the headline and support fact-based journalism.