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Don't Judge an Article By Its Title PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

I've been seeing this more and more, and it's getting downright silly. A journalist writes an article for a newssource, and then somewhere along the line a title is added to the piece that completely misrepresents the article beneath it.

Today's example: On Darwin's 200th, a theory still in controversy by Gregory Katz. I opened the article expecting to see something about so-called intelligent design, creationism, or maybe something about Ben Stein's problems in Vermont. But no, the article doesn't mention any of those things.

Instead, it's a decent article about Darwin's life, including some interesting tidbits (Darwin invented the office chair?).

So what's with the title?

Does it even make sense? Of course titles need to be short, but what does it mean? It seems to say, "On Darwin's 200th birthday, his theory is still controversial." That sentence is (sadly) accurate, but it only reflects a single line in the article, and its not at all the main point of the author. Darwin's theory is barely mentioned, let alone discussed, and the only "controversy" seems to be between him and his wife. I doubt that controversy is "still" taking place.

As a syndicated piece, I suspect that an editor at the AP added "controversy" to the title in order to get more papers to pick it up. People are more likely to read "Controversy!" than "Darwin's 200th birthday is coming up." But they're doing us all a disservice by hyping titles that don't match their articles. It's a deceptive practice designed to manipulate people.

You could argue that at least the title got the article in front of people who might not otherwise read about Darwin's private life, but it does so with the wrong expectations. A title like that changes the way you read the article and how you interpret its contents.

I think a little creativity could have created an interesting yet compelling title. Have one? Please submit it in the comments.