When it comes to news, the art of reading has become a lost art. Once, newspapers had a monopoly on information sharing. If it wasn’t in the newspaper, chances are people wouldn’t believe it happened.
Today, the power of the press has shifted to the Internet. People write their own headlines. And, as Twitter has shown us, a headline of less than 10 words is enough to change the world.
That’s why those making the biggest impact are people like you and me. When we see something interesting, everyone we know sees something interesting. We post. We tweet. We share. If our friends think it’s also interesting, they share as well.
A few weeks ago, I pulled into the parking lot where I work. At least I started to. Blocking the path to my usual parking spot was a school bus. This wasn’t any school bus. It was a school bus that had physically melted from the wheels up after a sudden and devastating fire. Fortunately, no students were on board at the time.
Once I maneuvered past the emergency vehicles, I parked my car and shot a picture with my phone. My co-workers did the same thing. Within an hour, the remains of the bus were towed away and those who arrived at our office after its removal had no idea anything had happened until they read the newspaper article (online of course) many hours later.
Even then, they didn’t realize the incident occurred in our parking lot. Why? Because they read only the headline.
Don’t get me wrong. Headlines are important, they grab our attention, but they don’t tell the whole story.
Consider these three tweets of headlines from the past month. “A committee of French journalists protests to the French legislature over censorship,” “Pope … appeals to the press to promote peace among the belligerent nations” and “U.S. Senate probes the president’s power of filling offices during recess.”
If you’re semi-well-informed, you can guess the story and fill in the gaps based on the headline alone. French journalists are upset following terror attacks against a satirical newspaper that published controversial material. The pope wants all of us to just get along. And a change of power in the U.S. Senate means investigations of topics the previous majority party wanted to ignore.
All of those guesses, however, are incorrect. You can fill in the gaps only if you know all the pertinent information, which you don’t because I didn’t tell you.
Each of those headlines was tweeted recently, but the content is 100 years old. They’re from a Twitter account called @CenturyAgoToday.
That’s the power of a headline. Written properly, it gives readers the chance to jump to a conclusion. We now mutually share the power that was once only in the hands of a few.
What we say online becomes the headlines of our personal newspaper. Our words define our top stories. To those who read them, what they say becomes who we are.
If you want to know what people think about you, look at what you type and share online. Is it funny? Sarcastic? Serious? Angry? That’s how people see you. Is that who you see when you look in the mirror?
Take a few minutes and truly read the words of those around you. Do you know the rest of the story? Chances are there is more beyond the headline you see. Take the time to make those discoveries.
Sometimes you’ll discover you were wrong. Other times, you’ll confirm you were right. And, on rare occasions, you’ll identify those for whom confirmation isn’t necessary.
For example, I’m pretty sure today, same as 100 years ago, there’s a pope who just wants all of us to get along.