Misleading headline 5

I have had a problem with headlines in the newspaper for some time now because they are frequently misleading, confusing, and sensational.  I understand that headlines are designed to grab the reader’s attention and get them to read the article.  It seems to me that over the past ten years or so, headlines often contradict the content of the article.

A headline in the Boston Globe on April 24th caught my attention and bothered me so much that I decided to blog about it.  What disturbs me about it is that it deliberately puts  a negative spin on something positive.

The headline:

Colleges bewildered by anonymous major gifts.

The subtitle (subline?):  One caveat: Don’t try to identify donor.

The reporter was Justin Pope of Associated Press. I’m sure he didn’t write the headline because that’s generally another person’s job at the newspaper.   The article describes a “mysterious donor” who is giving away millions of dollars to at least a dozen colleges across the country all of which are headed by women.

He goes on to write that the colleges themselves don’t know who the donor is.  The gifts have ranged from $1 million to $10 million so far and all have been given through a third party.  “College officials had to promise – in writing, in some cases – not to try to find out the donor’s identity.”

My problem with the headline is this – why are the colleges bewildered?  Why couldn’t the headline have read:

College delighted by anonymous major gifts?
Colleges headed by women receiving anonymous major gifts?
Who is the mystery donor giving to colleges headed by women?
(Make up one yourself.)

According to the article, “in most cases, the donor specified that the money be used for financial aid.”
Nothing I read in the article indicates bewilderment.  In fact, there are no quotes from any of the colleges that received the money!  Of the three people quoted, only one is a woman.  There is one comment laced with envy from a male administrator whose college did not receive one of the gifts.

These gifts are a good thing for any # of reasons: 

  • Times are hard. 

  • Financial aid is imperiled.

  • The gifts were unexpected. 

  • They fill a need.

  • The donor doesn’t want to be identified!

A very good thing, indeed!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I continue to be bothered and bewildered by headlines.
How ’bout you?

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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5 thoughts on “Misleading headline

  • Christina

    It is amazing that someone is not only giving such large sums of money away, with no expectation of repayment, upon the one condition of anonymity. Very rarely do we (society) take the time to think of others, much less give to someone whom you do not know, and will never be able to repay us for our kindness. In these economic times, acts like this are a relief for families who want the best, but cannot afford it.
    The sad part about sensationalism in the news is that if it bleeds it leads, but if it generates suspicion then it’s right on mission. News outlets use these headlines to prey upon the mistrust (and ignorance) of the masses. The most unfortunately aspect is there is a extreme fear because of this ideology, resulting in our current dilemma.
    I do wonder what is so bewildering about someone investing in the future of education? While it probably wasn’t mentioned, it is safe to assume that the reason colleges are bewildered [i.e. suspicious] is because they don’t know where the money is coming from and governmental pressures want to be sure it’s not from “terrorist” operations.

    I think a great headline would have been: Dozens of Perpetuating Scholarships Established by Anonymous Donor – Donor ensures the stability of colleges by donating millions of dollars to colleges lead by women.

  • LeeAnn

    It does give the idea that colleges are so bewildered that they’re almost unsure whether or not they should accept this bewildering gift,yes? And, if the headlines are not enough – when music and tone are added, the nightly news just becomes SO DRAMATIC…sometimmes I prefer to mute and just see the bare words scroll across the screen.

  • Anali

    I hate when news articles do that too! I’ve noticed that sometimes news websites will switch the headline on the same article, so I end up clicking on the same story numerous times. How annoying!

    I didn’t read the article that you mentioned, but I heard something similar on the radio. The story was that the schools were wary that the money was somehow illicit, like drug money. I’m not sure if the donations were given in cash and they think that was the only way to get rid of the money. Very odd.

  • Candelaria

    The donations were given in checks.  When’s the last time you heard of drug money being given to a college?
    It is odd – the response and the article.  (BTW – the original article is linked in the post.)

  • Lilly

    Oops for starters I thought I was voting about the newspaper article as opposed your post so it came out a negative. Mistake.

    In terms of the donations. There is not a person on earth who wouldnt be delighted with the money, particularly that much. They may be curious as to where the money came from but not bewildered. Bill Gates (or his foundation) gave a university here 18 million the other day but of course everyone knew who it came from. Good on whomever it was and its more likely a woman who gave this money.

    Newspapers are desperate to sell copies according to Murdoch so I expect we are going to have worse headlines in the future. Great post even though I am so silly I voted incorrectly. Can you fix that?