There is a lot of discussion about biases and untruths in the media. Many people comment on the discord surrounding political discussions and discourse. We are inundated with headlines which sometimes stir up frenzy and anxiety. Regardless of political persuasion, many of us are disappointed with the media’s ability to communicate impartial and unsensational facts that can be trusted.
I have reflected on the psychological power of newspaper headlines and had a radical thought. Let’s ban all headlines for 40 days. Newspapers and their writers would retain editorial and journalistic freedom…the body of the article would remain the same…just NO headlines.
Why would this be so powerful?
Often, people read only the headlines and skip reading the entire article. A sound bite doesn’t examine the entire story. Without the benefit of learning about the complexity and multiple sides of an issue, we lack the ability to think and formulate our own opinions.
Given the nature of my Breaking Matzo blogs, I wanted to compare my experience of reading the newspaper with my study of the Bible. Here goes…
The average number of words in a newspaper article is 1235 and the average number of words in a headline is 7.4. Therefore, the average person reads a headline in 3-4 seconds, that’s less than half a second per word. Many people draw conclusions about an article’s topic based on a glance. The lack of reading for understanding may lead to conflict with one’s community and loved ones discussing issues that are polarizing or political. Because many people react emotionally to an issue, wouldn’t it be better if we all took the time to read all the facts? If we did take the time, we could ponder all sides of an issue, form an educated opinion, then have the ability to engage in a more civil discourse.
How does reading the newspaper compare with reading the Bible?
I attend a monthly Bible study group. On average we spend 90 minutes studying 30 words of one Bible section. This is about 3 minutes per word. Each topic involves very different personal perspectives. In the Bible, there are no chapter titles, no headlines, and no chapter summaries. We study subtlety and navigate nuance. We discuss a broad range of ideas and look for connections and meaning throughout the Bible and within our personal narratives and experiences. Our group is diverse and we share our different positions with mutual respect and honor for tradition.
I have found that each Bible study session makes me feel closer to my study mates and provides me with inspiration and varied viewpoints from my own, that make me more well- rounded in my thoughts and discussions with friends, family and colleagues. In addition, I have found that I can study the same Bible passage multiple times, over time, and come away with different ways of looking at the text.
So how about it? What if we could read Newspapers more similarly to the Bible for a period of time? For 40 days?
With no headlines, each of us could take the time to read an entire article, delve into details and develop complete understanding.
It has worked for the Bible. Why not for the media?
We counted the words of every front page article and headline in The Boston Globe, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal every day from January 16 to Friday February 9. We counted 380,172 words in 308 articles over 19 days in these three publications to determine the average words per article and average words per headline from 1/16/18 to 2/9/18.
Average words per article 1,234
Average words per headline 7.4