Headlines are powerful. Everyone in the press knows this.
This power has never been clearer now that newsrooms can monitor what attracts readers and how long they spend actually reading our stories. Attention spans were small prior to the age of online news, and they've only gotten smaller.
A well-worded headline, then, can go a long way. In fact, in more cases than we'd care to admit, headlines are often the only thing audiences read.
It's not the best situation, but it is what it is. With that in mind, let's look at these doozies.
This headline was published Thursday by the Hill: "DeVos uses private jet for work-related travel."
And this headline from the Associated Press was pushed on social media at around the same time: "Education Secretary DeVos uses a private jet to fly around the country to tour schools and attend other work events."
The Hill headline is only 46 characters, and the AP's is only 115, but they both suggest an awful lot.
Remember: Both come on the heels of separate reports alleging U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin requested an Air Force jet for his European honeymoon and that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has an expensive government jet habit. Readers can't be faulted, then, for assuming from these DeVos headlines that she, too, prefers taxpayer-funded travel.
The problem with that assumption is that it's wrong. In fact, DeVos is doing the opposite of what the headline suggests – picking up her own tab by traveling in her own private jet. She pays for it all herself at no cost to taxpayers. In fact, her to-date submitted travel expenses amount to a mere $184.
Amazingly enough, these details are actually noted in both reports. However, because this is the reality in which we live, their respective headlines left a few assuming the worst of DeVos.
To be clear, the problem here isn't with the actual reporting. The authors did a fine job. The problem here is with whoever is responsible for the somewhat misleading headlines.