This morning’s paper carried a “most read” article with the headline, “What You Need to Know About Watching the Olympics.” I did not bother reading the article, and I have never read an “What You Need to Know” article. Nor will I.
I appreciate that a headline for an online newspaper is like a title to a book or poem or essay. It is there to stir a reader’s attention and/or to give a hint as to the subject of the article. However, it seems to me that news providers have gone astray in the use of what any reader needs to know. I have seen headlines that promise me what I need to know on: Supreme Court decisions, major sporting events such as the British Open, a ruling on abortion by a federal judge, the horrendous wildfires and floods affecting the world, any new revelation of the COVID plague and more. There is no lack of “What I Need to Know” or “How I Need to Watch.”
I admit that there is much that I need to learn. However, as an avid reader who strives to gain information from an array of daily news outlets, I am capable of determining what information I need to absorb. I am capable of determining what is important and/or useful to me. A headline editor who writes “What You Need to Know About” is of no use to me, but the newspaper he or she works for is.
I know and appreciate that our language evolves. For instance, during the 1980’s I watched the verb “quote” begin its mutating into a noun, giving us this well-used usage, “ I want to read a quote.” The art of imitation has helped change our language and that is not necessarily a bad thing. However, I bristle when I read “What You Need to Know About (Whatever) or worse yet, “How to (anything).
This proliferation seems to be used mostly with newspapers in their on-line services. For instance, the Washington Post just posted (5pm on 7/22) this headline, “What You Need to Know About the Delta Variant.”ABC on-line news carries the same headline with five stories attached underneath. I found none in the on-line stories of Fox. But not to be outdone, NBC on-line news carries this worthy tip: “How to Watch the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games.”
In my third paragraph I admit that there is much I need to learn. A recent example is that this morning, after beginning this essay yesterday afternoon, a friend told me what I was wailing against is referred to as “Click bait.” What a telling phrase. What an offensive practice by news outlets. The news outlets must have learned from the advertisements that use scantily dressed folks to entice a reader in opening their page. And I appreciate that news outlets must, like their advertisers, sell in order to survive. However, must they offend the common sense of their readers by such nonsense? Or, have news outlets discovered something about their readers?
News outlets have their place in our world as they satisfy our desire for instant reporting on occurring events. They even publish opinions on those events. But all that is is information, not knowledge. For instance, I read the local Charlotte Observer for information of local events and the Washington Post (on-line) for information of a national and international flavor. And I read a variety of columnist to gather other views of events. However, I form my own library of “what/how I need to knows.”
To have information is useful, but to have knowledge is strength. To know that there is such a mutation as the Delta Variant is useful, but to know how to protect yourself and loved ones is strength. That can only come as a result of knowledge about COVID and its variants. And that knowledge is best gained from reliable sources, not news peddlers.