Public Service Announcement: Don’t Judge Mass Media Writing by the Title

A short note from all of us who write for magazines and newspapers to all of you who write essays and emails denouncing us based on the title of our latest contribution.

(1) Authors don’t generally pick their titles. Editors do. Even if your screaming is justified, you are screaming at the wrong person. The author may not like the title either.

(2) It’s excusable not to know that authors usually don’t pick the titles of their articles because it’s the inside baseball of journalism. However, when you write your long ranting emails and essays based on a title that doesn’t match the content of the article (because a different person penned each) you are effectively announcing to the world that you feel comfortable making lengthy pronouncements about material you have not in fact read. This is particularly acute when you make points that are in the author’s own piece and which you would have agreed with if only you’d troubled to read the piece you are criticizing.

End of PSA. You may now resume your regularly scheduled blathering, but those of us who write hope you won’t.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.