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Columnist craves heroin — not (but made you look)

Websites use come-on headlines to drive traffic, like 'Guess what [celebrity/politician] said?'

Do the following headlines even refer to the same blog post?

“College is a ludicrous waste of money”

“Back to College, the Only Gateway to the Middle Class”

Yes, indeedy, they sure do.

They have to do with a post by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich in which he argues that the massive emphasis on a four-year college or university education in the liberal arts has been squeezing out the vocational and community colleges training that prepares students for jobs in tech, computer and lab work and medical support — and shortchanging students who feel pressured to go into four-year programs and then don’t get what they want out of those costly educations.

The first headline was on Salon.com, which republished Reich's post and decided to reduce its hefty arguments to that shamelessly click-minded headline above.

The second headline was on Reich's own website.

Every reader knows that headlines sometimes inadvertently miss the mark. And there are connoisseurs who collect headlines, the brilliantly pithy ones and the awful “oopsie” ones.

The best among the brilliant ones, a New York Post tabloid headline about a grisly murder in a strip club: “Headless Body In Topless Bar.”

And among the “oopsies,” one that’s pinned on my bulletin board right now, from the Northwest Herald in Illinois, in 1994. The paper’s style must have decreed the use of the word “homosexual” instead of “gay,” because the headline reads:  “Atomic bombers criticize Enola homosexual exhibit.”  

That should have been Enola Gay, the name of the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb, on Hiroshima. The plane was named after the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay.

Lurid, 2-inch-high screaming headlines that once sold newspapers on street corners have been mostly replaced as almost all American newspapers are now sold by subscriptions. Cleverness is still prized, but not at the expense of veracity.

Instead, it’s websites that now use come-on headlines, to drive traffic, headlines along the lines of “Guess What [celebrity/politician] Said,” or “You Won’t Believe What [celebrity, politician] Did Now!”

I wrote in an earlier post that we’re naturally curious; I’m curious about what taking heroin would be like, but it doesn’t mean I’ll gratify my curiosity. It was a post about stolen pictures of naked actresses and videos of jihadis executing Americans.

The headline was, “Why you shouldn’t click on nude celebrity photos or ‘beheading porn.’ " But if this were really just about the clicks, the headline might have been, “Columnist desperate for heroin fix.” Think of the clicks that could generate. 

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes

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