Here’s what I want you to know: HuffPo and other newspapers think you’re dumb

January 31, 2020 • 10:00 am

While I’m doing research on two more substantive pieces I hope to post today and tomorrow, I’ll fill in the time with some persiflage.

It finally happened: all four of the stories in yesterday’s HuffPost “personal” section have headlines that have “what and how” tropes about “here’s what you need to know” or “how X affected me”.  It’s a perfect record!  And note that the last one even says, “Here’s what I want you to know.” To me, that has the air of someone grabbing you by the lapels on the street and shouting their woes at you whether you want to hear them or not. It’s Ancient Mariner-ish. Maybe I don’t want to know what Ms. Owen has to tell me!

This patronizing meme, which is completely unnecessary, seems to be spreading; it’s now showing up in the New York Times:

and this:

It’s at the Washington Post, too:

and at the Los Angeles Times:

Now I already know some readers are going to tell me that they don’t object to this, and that’s fine. Tastes differ. But I do object to it. Why? I suppose because I don’t want some bozo journalists telling me “everything I need to know”. How do they know what I need to know? Maybe I need to know more! Why not just say “Briefing on China’s Virus Outbreak”. (I have no objection to briefing, my objection is the hectoring, “Here’s what you need to know.”) Or “Kobe Bryant’s tragedy helped me deal with my husband’s sudden death.”

This seems to be a new trend in journalism, spreading like coronavirus among newspapers. Why? My best guess is that papers are trying to dumb down the headlines to attract readers, and the “here’s what you need to know” trope makes the readers feel like they can be completely satisfied after they read it. It also resembles the increasingly frequent and very annoying “listicles” that appeal to people for reasons I don’t quite understand. Everyday Feminism is a fount of these:

35 thoughts on “Here’s what I want you to know: HuffPo and other newspapers think you’re dumb

  1. I dislike it too.

    The Independent in the UK does this – at least on the online edition.

    From last year – ‘The EID Festival: Here’s what you need to know’.

    Errrr… why? Why do I NEED to know anything about a ridiculous religious festival? Is it because the Indy is part-owned by a powerful Saudi nowadays? Or is it just an irritating and ‘right-on’ journalistic trend’? Or are they simply being patronising to readers who may not be that fond of ‘Isssslarm’ and other cults? (As they regularly demonstrate below the line)

    We WILL tell you! You WILL learn!

    Shove it.

    Al Lee

  2. I think this is an attempt to trigger a fear of looking ignorant: “Oh noes! What if I’m unaware of something I need to know!”. Why, you could be mocked on social media! Better to be on the safe side and read the article.

  3. This seems to be a new trend in journalism…

    The title style is certainly a new trend. I would disagree that the content is new. Papers have been publishing things like weekly roundups or “what’s happened so far” precis of specific issues for as long as I can remember.

    So, I will say that I fully agree with you on disliking the titles. They are infantilizing to readers and at this point, derivative. The papers are jumping on an already-tired bandwagon to try and drum up readership. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that such articles are worthless. Particularly with issues or stories I don’t follow closely, I find it helpful when a paper publishes a timeline or summary of main events. And I actually enjoy ‘weekly roundup’ type articles…when they concern real news. Summary articles on relationship tips and/or self help like the four articles you referenced above? Not so much.

  4. Not so much “think you are dumb” but “take for granted that you are dumb” because–let’s face it–America has become a land of overwhelmingly dumb people.

  5. I’m generally inclined NOT to read any article that includes such moronic phrases as “the ____ you need to know,” or “__ things you didn’t know about ___”, for more or less the same reasons PCC(E) gives. I don’t actually NEED to know anything at all about the various headlines listed above.

    1. They also make me think of all the “What X does not want to tell you about” articles beloved by promoters of Woo.

  6. Those are irritating headlines- it’s delicious torture. Let me try:

    What are “melodies”? 7 ways white people established a cultural hegemony, and 3 things you need to do right now to destroy its oppression – and no, they’re not what you think they are.

  7. It may be just lazy journalists. Normally there would be somnething catchy and imaginative or informative in the subtitles of those headlines. Much easier for underpaid hacks to just use this formulaic and brainless phrase…no sacrificed neurons on their side or on the readers’ side.

    1. In light of a new comment below, I should change “journalists” to “editors”. It’s true that the people writing the articles rarely write the titles.

  8. It finally happened: all four of the stories in yesterday’s HuffPost “personal” section have headlines that have “what and how” tropes about “here’s what you need to know” or “how X affected me”.

    Whatcha call a “superfecta” among your racetrack denizens.

  9. What Consuming a Full Liter of Vodka At Work Everyday Taught Me about Short Term Employment and The New Gig Economy.

    I like stories I read to have gritty, patronizing headlines.

    1. How about:

      ‘I got taken in by a fake “Here’s What” article. Here’s 10 trouble signs you can use to spot fake wokeness.’

    1. As I understand it, here in the UK few journalists have any say over the headlines that appear above their copy. Though the sub-editors who traditionally were responsible for such things are an endangered species in newspaper newsrooms these days so perhaps my belief is out of date.

  10. Yep, this drives me nuts too. By predicting not only “your” needs, but also “your” emotional responses, it precludes everyone whose emotional life and needs don’t fit that category. Ultimately it’s just a not so subtle form of peer group pressure.

  11. Surely it is ok for the author of such pieces to express their own opinion as to what someone might need to know about a certain subject. Most readers would (and should) not take it as saying that their article contains everything one could know about its subject or that others might differ as to its completeness.

    Coming at it from another angle, many commenters on this post and others like it say something like, “Yeah, I steer clear of articles like this.” I take that as an indication that the title correctly informed its potential readers and non-readers as to the kind of article it captions.

    BTW, I often steer clear of such articles also but occasionally I read them. I would characterize the latter cases as occasions when I care enough about the subject to read a quick summary but not enough to get deeply into it.

    1. I actually liked the subheading of the one that said “Here’s what I want you to know”, because that’s honest and not presumptuous…at least not TOO presumptuous. But the “You NEED to know” ones just seem to be flagrant attempts to manipulate simple-minded people.

  12. I don’t have a problem with such headlines if they relate to a genuinely public information article (the kind of stuff like “How to check if you are registered to vote”, say, that might accompany a more general news report about an upcoming election). But anything telling you how to think, feel, or react has no place in the news.

  13. It’s a personal, all power to YOU appeal to catch your attention, its all about you!… and what’s good for YOU eh… according to ME and my readership… psss, cause I really want to help YOU and (myself) with this really interesting stuff YOU need to know.
    Competitiion for readers may be what drives this trend into purile appeals for our attention. Information is big business as we know, sifting through it is a problem, it is easy when told (for some) what it is that you should know.
    Yes, they could turn the dial down on sensationally YOU… with less of the groping, paws all over you, we know best, baiting.

    I see one headline has, “at the end of the day” as part of the bait. When this bunch of words are applied to social / political issues there is no such thing as the “end of the day” only the begining and how to solve and progress.
    At the “end of the day” the fucking sun sets but only for half the planet…

  14. I think it conjures up a situation where an assistant hurries to follow behind you, giving you cliff notes about the next thing while you grab your coat to go out to something important, where you need to know these things.

    We all are far away to realise the extent of how much the media landscape has changed in just a decade. It’s even more media control, and even more propaganda. We are like people a hundred years ago, who were completely overwhelmed by glowing, attention grabbing advertising and marketing on every street.

  15. I’m fine with that headline style to be honest. It’s cliche sure, nut it isn’t lying about what it is.

    I think it is just a quick way of letting the reader know its a quick recap on what’s happened so far if they haven’t been following it that closely.

    By using words like “You” or “your” is is aiming to give a sense of immediacy to it.

  16. And then there’s this one :

    READ : [ stuff the publication wants everyone to read ]

    … what else would I do? Smell it? And is it just that simple? everyone would smell it if all you do is order them to?


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