As a longtime journalist, I am aware of the power and impact of headlines on news stories and opinion pieces. More often than not when I hear or read someone commenting on a recent posting, the slightest probing reveals that they didn’t read the piece in its entirety. In fact, rarely do they read past the lead paragraph. But in far too many cases, they talk as if they were knowledgeable about a subject when all they’ve read is the headline.
Headlines are the primary means by which memes are created and spread. By their nature, they are incomplete. By design, they are intended not so much to educate readers but to entice then to read the piece.
Thus it is that when I encounter a particularly misleading headline, I tend to react strongly.
Today’s Christian Science Monitor online has an article headlined, “Has Renewable Energy Hit Hard Times?” That question might well cause you to ask whether wind and solar have somehow been found to be uneconomical or counter-productive. But the opening sentence of the article begins to reveal the real agenda behind the story. “Just last summer, renewable energy was considered a booming industry,” it tells us. Aha, so this is not about green energy, it’s about green energy companies who are disappointed in their profit margins.
Sure enough, The main focus is on SunEdison, the very epitome of Big Green. That company has pursued a relentless and highly risky policy of growth by acquisition and has a well-documented shady business plan that involves the main company building and then selling or licensing alternative energy capacity to subsidiaries it owns. It turns out the “hard times” are being encountered by SunEdison’s investors who are angry that “Stock prices have plunged in recent months as [they] have begun to question the companies’ business model.”
The CSM article concludes, “Moving forward, renewable energy needs simpler and more transparent business practices to meet the world’s growing enthusiasm for energy alternatives.” Exactly. Supplanting the exploitative practices of Big Oil and Big Coal with Big Green isn’t going to shift the ethics or priorities of the market. This is precisely why the development of wind and solar cannot be entrusted solely to private enterprise whose only motive is short-term profit and who will cut and run at the first sign that their last-century approach to business isn’t going to be rewarded in the New Global Economy.
Meanwhile, the CS Monitor would do well to retrain its editorial staff in the construction of useful and accurate headline writing. I know it’s a lost art, but it’s not rocket science.