Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Fake News" vs "Feisty Headlines" in Professional Media…

Were local broadcasters the most level-headed in the recent Clinton / Trump headline game?

James Pavoldi

For 20 years I’ve been well positioned and effective in the content and syndication economy with a unique expertise in media monitoring and broadcast intelligence.

I now find myself home for the holidays and like many of my peers, my extended family tends to be confused by exactly what I do day-to-day, and know simply that I “do something with news and the Internet”.   Although I can talk endlessly about content if someone seems interested in the space (I have been accused of talking endlessly about content with someone just because they made eye contact); it’s rare that anyone outside of the industry asks me non-rhetorical questions about “the news” as a concept and seems genuinely interested in my answers…

One statement I’ve found myself repeatedly making while discussing the current state of affairs is that the actual news, the meat of the stories if you read them in full, is still pretty good. Whether this is a CYA maneuver or actual journalistic integrity can be debated, but the fact is that ‘the facts’ do tend to be present for those who consume the entire product. 

The headlines (vs the facts) are another beast altogether and in some cases ‘the facts’ seem to be more of a correction on page 2 that actually counter the message in the "feisty" headline… I found myself repeatedly saying that I felt local broadcasters seemed to be the most level-headed headline writers during the election cycle and I set out to gather evidence and see if my hunch was supported.

I elected to focus on a topic and a time-frame, and gather the headlines from a cable news provider (news content only, avoiding editorial or pundit / entertainer segments), a major US newspaper, a major ‘new media’ news destination, and an aggregate of 100 local broadcasters outside of the top 50 DMA’s.

I found that both “Clinton” and “Trump”, when reduced to topics used in headlines, were presented so frequently that using them as the topic for this experiment was a bit overwhelming. I chose instead to cover Donald Trump’s running mate “Mike Pence” as his name, as a trending news topic, was a bit easier to digest manually. I was originally going to focus on Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, as I felt he was even more obscure, but he unfortunately stayed obscure even during the campaign.  Although Tim Kaine seemed perpetually available for interviews, he didn’t seem to engender much activity in the newsrooms I intended to monitor, and the coverage he did get seemed to focus simply on his existence in a specific place at a specific time.

The following is a small sample of the top headlines in each category of producer:


  • Democrats Rally Against Pence
  • Donald Trump disagrees with VP nominee Pence on Syria
  • Gov. Pence on terrorism, Orlando and Trump
  • Governor Pence Responds To Abortion Ruling
  • Many Republican lawmakers are reacting to the FBI's recommendation, including Indiana Governor Mike Pence.
  • Trump and Pence talked about firing up the economy Mike Pence said the war on coal must be brought to an end.
  • Pence on church tax
  • Vice presidential candidates Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine went face to face in a debate in Farmville, Virginia, speaking on a variety of issues.
  • Mike Pence Compares Trump to Reagan
  • As hundreds of supporters rallied with Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence Wednesday, Hillary Clinton supporters did what they could to slow Pence's momentum.
  • Political Analyst Don ****** gave us his insights on Tuesday night's Vice Presidential debate between Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine.


  • Mike Pence's new neighbors put up LGBT pride flags in protest
  • Mike Pence: I'm getting 'whiff of desperation' from Democrats
  • Top LGBT Republican group declines to endorse Donald Trump
  • Mike Pence has own woes with women
  • What a Trump presidency could mean for LGBT Americans
  • Mike Pence: I never considered leaving Trump ticket
  • Mike Pence tests role as Donald Trump's chief message man
  • Trump-Pence: A ticket with two right wings


  • An appeal to Mike Pence: Leave your anti-LGBT views behind 
  • Being a gay Republican: 'Is this a party that even wants me?'
  • Gays can be reformed, just like arsonists, Trump's new domestic policy
  • Pence's role in Trump's campaign: Be to the GOP what Donald Trump
  • The mind-set that drives fear, hate and Donald Trump
  • What it means that Mike Pence called himself an 'evangelical Catholic
  • What's up with all the gay rights shout-outs at the Republican
  • While Trump stays out of it, GOP platform tacks to the right on gay
  • Trump has a problem with female voters. Pence could make it even


  • The Mike Pence (Donald Trump) Assault On LGBTQ Equality
  • Mike Pence: Even More Extreme Than Donald Trump
  • Mike Pence's Blatant Anti-LGBT Extremism Completely Ignored
  • 6 Reasons Why Mike Pence Is Awful For Queer People 
  • Think Trump Is Scary? Check Out Mike Pence On The Issues. 
  • Don't Be Shocked. Mike Pence Has Always Been A Bigot.
  • Mike Pence Could Be Your Worst Nightmare
  • The Dangers Of Conversion Therapy To The LGBTQ Community
  • Mike Pence's Long History of Bigotry and Intolerance

I was pleasantly surprised to find that all 4 camps have moved away from the “Viral Nova” method of headline writing (You have seen these strategically penned hooks before; imagine something like:

 “Mike Pence was OK with the theory of Gravity until THIS happened!” 

(often complete with image of a moist octopus tentacle wrapped around a flux capacitor or some other image that’s humanly impossible-not-to-notice).

I discovered another trend accidentally, one that I will cover in a separate piece regarding “Fake News vs the Far-Fetched”, in which some topics continued to get attention from trusted sources after they were already resolved or at least skeptically investigated by one or more of the newly empowered social-fact checkers…  

Just as one topical example (at the risk of sounding like some type of odd-duck cheerleader for local broadcasters or heaven-forbid a cheerleader for 'Mike Pence'), local broadcasters did seem to be the only group who did not recently use the phrase “electroshock therapy” in their core news product (broadcast video or owned text).

Even if I were to be lost at sea tomorrow, this topic will be a hot one in 2017 so get the popcorn ready. 

Disclaimer: I have dedicated substantial energy to evangelizing the idea of, and building products to facilitate a method of, owned-content sharing and curation between sister stations in a group to create high-quality and commercially valuable news products. By encouraging aggregation to create digital packages of national interest like 'politics' as outlined here, a possibility exists for me to benefit professionally from an increased enthusiasm in the strategy.

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