Skip to content

Bad news

It's challenging to get people to read beyond the headline

If you’re reading this sentence, you’ve already gotten further than most people.

You’ve probably heard that oft-repeated lament about people only reading the headline of an article. Maybe you’ve rolled your eyes at online comments from people who clearly haven’t read the corresponding story, or maybe you’ve been guilty of doing that yourself.

It’s something that gets our goat over here at the Gazette: we’ve seen an uptick in online comments recently from people who can’t be bothered to click on the article – and if recent reports are any indication, that trend isn’t getting better. It’s no surprise that many readers in this era of social media dominance seem to only have time – and, sadly, only the desire – to read headlines, opting to snorkel their way through the news instead of scuba diving for a deeper look. Some of them aren’t interested in news at all.

In light of that, it isn’t every day a situation arises that makes us wish people would even just read headlines, if nothing else. But a recent poll by Abacus Data suggesting many readers have the attention span of a gnat brought that disheartening reality home this week.

Well, pollsters didn’t use the gnat analogy, precisely, but it’s a logical conclusion to draw when you’re told a third of Canadians are unaware our country’s ethics commissioner released a bombshell report last week about the actions of our prime minister.

The story dominated national news. It made international news. Every major news source in the country shouted on Aug. 14 that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated ethics law in the SNC-Lavalin affair. You couldn’t miss it – or so we thought. Yet Abacus found more than a third of Canadians had not heard of Mario Dion’s report at all, and just 16 per cent had “consumed a lot of news” on the topic.

A recent report from the Digital Democracy Project, a collaboration between McGill University and the Public Policy Forum, found Canada has relatively high consumption of print, broadcast and online media. But sadly, the report also found exposure to mainstream media and social media was associated with higher level of misinformation.

With a federal election looming around the corner, that bodes ill for those of us who write and publish the news. Traditional media is under pressure thanks to the World Wide Web, and statistics like these make us wonder: if people aren’t paying attention to the news, and a large amount of them apparently don’t bother to get even the most important national news online, how can we make informed decisions about the issues that affect our lives? Heck, how do we even know what those issues are?

These challenges need to be tackled. We’ll do our best at the Gazette to keep you informed.