Sensationalism and Sizzle: Noticing headlines in the Trump era

I posted the below on my personal Facebook recently while sharing an article, highlighted below, from The Daily Dot. In sharing the article, I wasn’t so much looking to discuss the content or the topic – which I outline herein – but rather to raise an eyebrow at the headline. Having studied journalism and with several years’ experience in professional communications, I saw something from The Daily Dot that was… I don’t know if “disappointing” is the word. Normal, perhaps. See what you think.


DailyDot.png
Source: The Daily Dot (http://www.dailydot.com/irl/teen-facebook-speech-trans-kids-gym-class/) 30 August 2016

Bear with me here for a moment, because it’s not what you think.

Leaving the content of the article aside (because we all know this is a hot topic in the U.S. right now, in particular) I’m interested in the headline The Daily Dot chose here. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this exact story pop up over the past few days. And it has been circulating for days. The earliest mention I found of it was a BuzzFeed article from August 24. There are other outlets reporting the same story on August 25 and again on August 26. And then there’s The Daily Dot – because that’s who Mic is sharing here, not original content – who are late to the party with a piece dated August 29.

The gist of this story, regardless of what outlet is report it, is thus: Teenaged girl raised in highly conservative religious family challenges federal bathroom-access policy, refusing to change/ shower in locker room – and by extension, take part in gym class – if transgender student(s) are permitted into said locker room, regardless of potential repercussions (namely: failing the class).

Like I said, let’s eschew the topic of the article here (and the political/societal/emotional/et al. ramifications for just a moment) and look at the journalism. I get that a media outlet seeks to draw as many eyeballs to their reporting on a story as possible – especially, I would wager, when an outlet is picking up the previously published threads of an already scooped story  – and therefore often utilize snappy headlines to draw in readers. So what interests me is The Daily Dot’s sensationalized (I was going to say “almost sensationalized” but, it’s not “almost”, it is sensationalized) headline here.

For comparison I offer the following:
– August 24, BuzzFeed: “This Girl Says She’ll Fail Gym Class If Transgender Students Use Her Locker Room” (https://www.buzzfeed.com/davidmack/east-penn-transgender-change-room?utm_term=.smZgJ7qLP#.cnRORjzv1)
– August 25, Metro Weekly: “Pennsylvania teen says trans students in locker room will make her fail gym class” (http://www.metroweekly.com/2016/08/pennsylvania-teen-says-trans-students-locker-room-will-make-fail-gym-class/)
– August 26, Philly Voice: “Pa. teen says she’ll fail gym if forced to change with transgender students” (http://www.phillyvoice.com/pa-teen-says-shell-fail-gym-if-forced-change-transgender-students/)
– August 29, The Daily Dot: “Ninth grader says she’ll fail high school if she has transgender classmates” (http://www.dailydot.com/irl/teen-facebook-speech-trans-kids-gym-class/)

The Daily Dot’s zinger is, perhaps, a bit of a leap over the course of six days, wouldn’t you say? And it doesn’t end there – even the opening paragraphs set wildly different tones.

From BuzzFeed, August 24:
“A female cisgender student in Pennsylvania told school officials she will be discriminated against if her high school complies with an Obama administration guideline allowing transgender students to use restrooms and changing rooms that correspond with their gender identity.”

From The Daily Dot, August 29:
“Sigourney Coyle doesn’t have any transgender classmates that she knows of—nor has she even started her freshman year at Emmaus High School yet. But that didn’t stop her from speaking out against the theoretical concept of someday having a transgender classmate when she enters the Pennsylvania school this fall.”

Context might not be everything, but it certainly accounts for a lot. Pay attention to headlines, subheads and tone, everybody. It’s sometimes just a thin blue line (of ink) separating rationality from… well, we’re all watching Trump’s America take shape.

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