Posted by: sarakroth | October 8, 2012

Do headlines with strong connotations get more readers?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines journalism as “writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation” (

I found the section in chapter 8 that discusses denotation and connotation particularly interesting. As journalists, we strive to report stories with as little bias as possible. In last Thursday’s MMJ class on Foundations of Multimedia Journalism, we had a discussion about whether or not reporting without bias is actually possible. O’Shaughnessy and Stadler’s discussion of denotation and connotation made me ponder this further.

Ideally, as journalists we strive to write without an attempt at interpretation; without stating our own opinions. Yet, when reading the news today, I couldn’t help but notice that journalists chose words carrying strong connotations. This is not unintentional. To sell papers, articles now incite rather than just report.

Today, the New York Post reported about a guidance counselor who had been fired because of lingerie modeling photos she posed for ten years ago. The website that linked to the article actually stated that the Post’s “decision to play the story with very little innuendo should serve as proof that [the counselor] seems to have gotten a raw deal” ( The Post’s headline: “Manhattan HS guidance counselor stripped of job over steamy-photo past.”

As we enter a more content-packed news environment, will more outlets follow the Post’s standards rather than the New York Times (or Murdoch rather than Sulzberger)? Do headlines with words carrying strong connotations get more readers, and why?

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