5 Things I Really Don’t Need To Know

An item on Yahoo! Shine today tempts readers with the headline “5 Things You Need to Know About Prince George’s New Nanny.” The article is reprinted from The Bump.

Who do the editors think they’re kidding?

I really don’t need to know anything about Prince George’s new nanny. Nor do more than 99.9 percent of the people likely to see the headline. We won’t be meeting and interacting with her. We’re not likely to consider hiring her after she leaves the British royalty’s employment. And we’re certainly not considering kidnapping the little baby—in which case Maria’s Tae-Kwon Do and stunt driving could foil our attempt.

Even readers who are considering hiring a nanny right now probably aren’t looking for those skills. They want someone who will engage and stimulate their children while caring for them safely. They want someone who will be reliable and trustworthy when it comes to showing up on time and following parents’ instructions. And they’d like someone who can be flexible—adjusting to the children’s needs and the demands that parents’ jobs can place on them from time to time.

In short, the editors’ headline is nothing more than a grab for attention. It may get some gullible folks to read the article. But then they’d find there’s nothing there they need to know.

Headlines about x things you need to know are nothing new. They provide an easy format for both the writer and reader. And they tempt readers to follow up. “Hmmm, what are those 5 things I need to know?” they might ask.

But then the body of the article is supposed to have information that people really do need to know. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some excellent examples.

5 Things you can do to lower your child’s lead level” offers five practical steps parents can take. If I had young children and lived in an area where lead poisoning was a possibility, I’d get started on those steps right away.

5 Things You Need to Know about Tuberculosis (TB)” does cover basic facts in a helpful Q&A format. With one-third of the world’s people being infected with the bacteria that cause the disease, this really is information we all should know. “Almost 2 million deaths worldwide occur each year from TB,” reports the CDC. TB is one of the world’s deadliest diseases, and it affects people around the world—including thousands in the United States.

When headlines don’t deliver on their promise about “things you need to know,” that’s a problem. The editors of Yahoo! Shine and The Bump might not care about their credibility. But readers are then likely to be skeptical about whether other news articles really will offer news points they need to know.

I probably wouldn’t have been in a snit if the headline had read, “5 Fascinating Facts about Prince George’s New Nanny.” I might or might not find all of them fascinating. But at least I’d have been fairly told that I was basically going to read trivia.

And yes, I realize Yahoo! Shine and The Bump are not noted for being pinnacles of journalism. But the more often hype like this gets used, the worse it is for both writers and readers.

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