I mean, honestly, when has baring all not done the trick for capturing attention? Hence my title for this post, choice of “news story” image, and Tactic#6 – MAKE IT ALL ABOUT THE HEADLINE from Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying to kick off my picks for important, interesting or novel tricks of media manipulators.
I can’t say that this tactic is novel, but as a writer, I have found it both interesting and useful (the headline, not the boobs baring). It’s why I chose the title That’s What She Said as the title of the column I wrote, and again for my blog. It was my attempt to capture eyeballs, especially those of my male readers who might otherwise pass over a female writer. My column and blog post titles are similarly thought out and crafted to attract readers. While I didn’t make stuff up (we’ll get to that later) I did use wordplay as effectively and humorously as possible to “get elected” for readers’ attention.
I found the Walter Lippman quote that the “newspaper editor has to be re-elected every day” a very interesting implied comparison to the kind of media effort that goes into political campaigns. Many people are unaware that it’s the editors of most news sources who write headlines. It was a constant struggle for me as a columnist who survived seven different editors, to convince each one of them that my opinion piece title that I’d put time and effort into crafting, was not a headline for them to rewrite. Even with that background and insider media knowledge, I am constantly having to pull my eyes away from compelling headlines on social media and elsewhere, but have been burned enough times to know that it’s best to avoid the flame, especially if it’s overly bright. But if you really must see the rest of that headline story where British MP Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel puts the “broad” back in broadcast and does her double-barreled best for the Brexit cause, you can find that clickbait here.
Tactic #8: USE THE TECHNOLOGY AGAINST ITSELF McLuhan knew it. Holiday knows it. The medium is the message. Blogs, television, newspapers, film, social media all have their medium-specific codes and conventions and, as Holiday puts it, their “unique logic.” Of course, he then goes on to say that all media manipulators need to do is understand these demands in order to “predict, and then co-opt, how they act.” I get what Holiday is saying here, but I am not crazy about his tendency to paint all public relations professionals as well as all bloggers with this same coarse brush, and (at least as far as I’ve read and besides the obvious exposé nature of his book) omits saying that media consumers also need to be aware of and understand this and other tactics, and be able to act on that knowledge. Maybe he is more reflective and activist in Part 2? Maybe he also uses his book to introduce readers to the key questions and concepts of media literacy and other ways out of this mess that he admits to having helped create. The suspense is killing me.
Tactic #9: JUST MAKE STUFF UP Once again, not a novel tactic. This one was a staple of boys’ locker rooms since boys’ lockers rooms were a thing, right? But it’s taken on a menacing new face since moving into the White House. And do you notice how often that “face” is female these days? Is that because women are considered more trustworthy than men at this time in history? Will the female spokesmodels of this administration and many businesses today change that? Holiday’s take on this tactic was all the more disturbing for me because he names some of the sources (Huffington Post, Business Insider) I have trusted in the past. These days, I at least try to check sources and stories as often as possible, on sites like Snopes , FactCheck.org, or MediaBias/FactCheck but also try to look into who it is doing the fact-checking, as this study by Chloe Lim does for me. Now I guess I have to check out Chloe Lim. 😦 How much time do we have to spend just to get some real facts now? I do love how this administration has brought about real-time fact-checking viewing options, like those available during the recent State of the Union address. Sad that it’s needed, but glad that it’s there. But I don’t want to roll over and get used to the fact that the controversy machine is bigger than the reality machine. Despite the fact that I proudly displayed a Question Reality bumper sticker for years, I’d like to be able to know how and where to find professional and trustworthy journalism outlets somewhere, and be part of an informed and media literate public armed with that knowledge. Is that too much to ask?