Betteridge’s Law (Of Headlines) and Lazy Journalism

By Nate McCallister   
Last Updated on August 26, 2022

In the information age, we are constantly bombarded with headlines and articles vying for our attention. With so much content available at our fingertips, it's no wonder that we often skim through articles rather than read them in full.

However, there is a downside to this laziness when consuming news and information – we might miss out on important details or, even worse, be misled by “click bait” headlines.

This blog post will explore how Betteridge's Law applies to headline writing in the age of clickbait and how this can lead to lazy journalism.

What is Betteridge's Law Of Headlines?

Betteridge's Law is an adage that states: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” In other words, headlines phrased as questions are usually clickbait or intended to generate hype without actually delivering on the headline's promise.

This may seem common sense, but you'd be surprised how often headlines are written in a way that leads readers to believe that the answer is “yes” when it's actually “no”.

This is known as “lazy journalism”, a problem that's too common in today's media landscape.

History

The law is named after British technology journalist Ian Betteridge, who first proposed it in 2009. The principle is based on the assumption that if a publisher is confident that the answer to a headline question is “yes,” they would present it as an assertion. The publisher is not accountable for whether the answer is correct by presenting the question as a question.

Other names have cited the law since 1991, when a compilation of Eddie Murphy's law variants called it “Davis's law.” In 2007, it was referred to as the “journalistic principle.” The law is a truism among journalists, meaning it is universally accepted as true. Erick Schonfeld also worked on User listening data in a similar domain.

Some Examples Of Question Headlines

Some examples of headlines that would comply with Betteridge's law are:

1. “Is Alexa Always Listening? How to Protect Your Privacy”

Betteridge-s Law Example - ---

On the surface, it seems like a straightforward question with a black and white answer. But when you start to think about all the ways that Amazon Alexa collects and stores data, it becomes clear that the answer is much more nuanced. For some people, the answer might be a resounding “no,” while others might be more trusting of the technology and feel comfortable with how it handles their data.

2. “Should Google Home Fear Watson Assistant?”

It is similar in that it also asks a question that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” However, the implications of the question are much more far-reaching. In this case, what is being asked is whether or not Google Home should be worried about the competition posed by Watson Assistant. And while there are arguments to be made on both sides, it's clear that this is not a simple question with a straightforward answer.

3. “Will, Your Next Lawyer, Be Named Siri?”

It raises an interesting possibility – that in the future, we may very well be represented by artificial intelligence in the legal field. But again, this is not a question with a simple answer. There are many factors to consider, such as the potential biases of an AI lawyer or the cost-effectiveness of using AI in this way.

4. “Is Social Media Ruining Our Lives?”

Betteridge-s Law Example --- 2

This headline will likely generate a lot of clicks because it is a question many people are interested in. And while there are arguments to be made on both sides, it's clear that this is not a simple question with a straightforward answer.

Why Is This Law Relevant To Lazy Journalism?

Simply put, lazy journalists often rely on Betteridge's Law to generate clicks and traffic without delivering on the question headline promise. For example, a headline such as “Will This New Diet Help You Lose Weight?” is likely to generate more clicks than a more accurate but less sensational headline such as “This New Diet Might Help You Lose A Few Pounds.”

However, while Betteridge's Law may help lazy journalists get more clicks, it ultimately disservice readers by providing them with false or misleading information without further reading.

Also, it's important to note that while Betteridge's Law is often used negatively, it can also be applied to create accurate and informative headlines. For example, a headline such as “Is This New Diet Safe?” is likely more accurate than one stating “This New Diet Is Safe.”

So, the next time you see a headline that seems too good to be true or one that doesn't seem to match the article's content, keep Betteridge's Law in mind. And, if you're a journalist, try to avoid using it to generate clicks and traffic at the expense of accuracy and fairness.

How Can You Avoid Falling Victim to Lazy Journalism?

Be aware of Betteridge's Law to avoid falling victim to lazy journalism. It's a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when you're reading phrasing headlines. If you see headlines that end in question marks, take a moment to consider whether or not the answer is likely to be “no.” If it is, you may want to take the article with a grain of salt.

Betteridge's Law isn't just limited to headlines. It can also be applied to other forms of media to prevent national panic, such as social media posts and click bait articles. It probably is if you see something that seems too good to be true. Don't let yourself be taken in by lazy journalism. Be an informed reader, and don't let the headlines fool you.

Also, do your research. Don't just rely on one source for your information. Go to multiple sources and compare what they're saying. This will help you get a more well-rounded view of the story, and it will help you avoid falling for fake news or national controversy.

Conclusion

Betteridge's Law applies to many headlines today, especially in the realm of online news. With the pressure to produce click-worthy content, it is easy to see how some outlets might be tempted to craft more sensational than accurate headlines. However, this disservice to readers ultimately erodes trust in the media. While taking the easy way out of headline writing may be tempting, lazy journalism is not worth the short-term gain.

We hope you found this article helpful. Please let us know in the comments if you have any questions or comments.

About the author, Nate McCallister

Nate is the founder and main contributor of EntreResource.com and the author of Evergreen Affiliate Marketing. He is a lifestyle entrepreneur who spends his time building businesses and raising his four kids, Sawyer, Brooks, Van, and Lua, with his beautiful wife, Emily. His main interests include copywriting, economics, and piano.

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