The "Art" of Writing Headlines

I don’t watch the news. I get the paper every day and I skip to the back page to do the Crossword and Sudoku without actually reading the rest. I don’t generally read magazines (except for the occasional Skeptical Inquirer or Skeptic Magazine). And I try to stay away from gossip blogs, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I do regularly read science news on the internet, though. And depending on where I do this can be an extremely frustrating endeavor. I know I’m not alone in this. Journalism just isn’t what it used to be. Sometimes though, it’s the little things that get me.

Take for example the story “Buffy the Vampire Slayer slaying church attendance among women, study claims“. Now what do you think that’s about?

I thought it was about how they went out and asked a bunch of Wiccans what they’re influences were to become Wiccan and they largely identified the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Ok, I’m going interject on myself here and “defend” the author of the particular story I linked to because I looked at several other stories about the same thing and they all gave the same impression. That “Buffy” was the it that turned women Wiccan.

Well, it wasn’t.

Big surprise, the journalists reporting on this story grossly oversimplified the results of a scientific study. Imagine.

To quote the researcher as quoted by the author of the article (does that count as a metaquote? nah…moving on):

Because of its focus on female empowerment, young women are attracted by Wicca, popularised by the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

That is the only time Buffy is mentioned by the researcher in the entire article, except for the ginormous picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar that the publisher put at the top as if she had anything to do with this. The rest is a series of other explanations by the researcher for women leaving the church such as: the popularization of feminism, a dislike for patriarchal hierarchies, a dislike of traditionalism, a general disapproval of blatant misogyny, and the attractiveness of more liberal religions that embrace women as members rather than treating them like tampon stains.

The research describes how women have been steadily leaving the church since 1989 (Buffy first aired in 1997, incidentally) at a rate twice greater than that of men.

What this research reveals is that a lot of people are put off by traditional stances and attitudes. We still have a long way to go before women, particularly young women, feel as included in the church as men do.

So it doesn’t reveal that Buffy caused the downfall of religion as we know it. Buffy was just a haphazard example that the researcher could think of off the top of her head during some interview and the real reason women are leaving is because of general disrespect towards women combined with a feeling of welcome from the Wicca tradition, and not because they are being brainwashed by alleged Wicca-loving TV shows. So women can think for themselves. Hunh.

So that’s what we’ve come to. A story about how women don’t feel respected by the church prefaced by a headline suggesting that women find their way in life by imitating things they see on TV. Niiiice. It couldn’t possibly be because of all those legitimate and complex social issues. Thinking about all that wouldn’t leave any time for shopping!

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