Why internet headline writers hate themselves

Writers are caught between the commercial instinct to maximize attention to articles that they’ve spent lots of time writing and the aesthetic instinct to not hate every fiber of their very being after they write the headline and press the publish button. (I’m using web-specific jargon here, but that’s not to discount the probability that this tension predates the Internet.)

Media critics are spot on that the most saccharine headline tropes often confirm readers’ prior opinions with exaggerated headlines. But to prove that repetitive headline genres are actually harmful requires proving that there is a good reason to work hard on a story and then give it a headline that you suspect might limit its readership. For businesses in the audience-maximizing world, that’s a hard case (but not impossible).

Media companies are desperately trying to get your attention and the headline tropes you see the most tend to be the headlines readers click the most. We are all in this together, one perpetual spin cycle of perfect responses, all-explaining graphs, and amazing truths, and you know exactly what’s going to happen next.