Madonna Gives Birth to 3-Headed Alien & Other Tales Not Told

I’ve never actually purchased a National Enquirer, but have read enough of their headlines in the grocery line that I can claim a certain level of expertise when I say, not only did Madonna not give birth to a 3-headed alien, but the story written under that headline never said she did.

This is more than just a tabloid excess. How many times have you read your local newspaper and started an article whose headline didn’t agree with what was written beneath it? There’s a reason for this in the mainline press: the writers rarely get to pen their own headlines. That job goes to an editor whose only function is to tease readers to the text below. Unfortunately, many of those editors only skim the articles and the results can be somewhat puzzling.

Recently, the Internet celebrated a milestone – there are now 100,000 million actual websites with content. Add to that more than 50 million blogs by some estimates. Needless to say, it’s getting more difficult each day to stand out in the log-on/log-off check out line.

Online journalists and bloggers are increasingly turning to “tabloid headline journalism” as a means to be noticed. Read some of the commentary feedback under many bloggers and you’ll see that there are a lot of angry readers each day who feel sucked into a story that didn’t deliver.

But for the most part, blogs are editorial. Editorial is opinion, not fact. But “news” articles in major online journals? These should be reporting fact and analysis. And the two should be clearly labeled as such.

Unfortunately, in an effort to be noticed, some fairly respected online “news” sources are resorting to tabloid headlines. Recently, I read an online marketing journal article entitled: “Relevance Good! Advertising Bad!” Since advertising – online and traditional – is a bazillion dollar industry older than fire and it has put food on my table for a many a year, I admit to more than a passing interest.

Surprise, surprise, the article didn’t deliver anything beyond mild conjecture and unsupported argument. Furthermore, it never says advertising is bad or even ineffective. It states that “relevance advertising”, a term that has grown in popularity lately, isn’t as effective as people make it out to be. No supporting data mind you, just a little self-serving reasoning from a self-espoused expert.

To these people and the many more who are jazzing up their headlines for the sake of readership, may I make a humble request – leave the aliens to find their own birth mothers. Madonna is cruising Africa for her family planning these days and for the life of me I can’t find any reason why the readers of the Journal of Astrophysics would want to know.