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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 07/11/2008

Head-Turning Climate Change Headline

By Dan Stillman

Screenshot of on Monday July 7, 2008.

Headlines are a funny thing. In a way, they are the most important part of a story, because they frame and set the tone for the story before the reader has even laid eyes on the first paragraph.

So it's ironic that the person closest to the story -- the author -- often has the least to do with the headline. Sure, in some cases an author may suggest a headline and it may even be used verbatim. More typically, however, headlines are decided on by an editor and tweaked up to the very last minute, based not only on accurately portraying the story, but also on grabbing the reader's attention and fitting the space allotted.

It's with this in mind that the headline (and photograph) pictured above -- "Climate change makes island kids bony, stunted" -- caught my attention on a Monday visit to the front page of I don't know the specifics of who wrote or vetted the headline. But I bet it's likely to provoke a variety opinions from our readers on the media's role in framing discussion and understanding of climate change.

Reading the full story is recommended, but not a requirement for participating using the comments link below.

By Dan Stillman  | July 11, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Media  
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Here's what one commenter (Paul) on had to say about the headline:

The headline of this article is an embarrassment to journalism. William Randolph Hearst would be proud. The headline definitively declares that climate change "makes Island kids bony and stunted." The "experts" cited in the article are "aid workers"??? Let's do some actual reporting CNN. If the article truly merits the headline, then cite some authoritative evidence, including dissenting opinions. The article is about a terrible tragedy. Apply a headline that befits a little bit of journalistic integrity please. These poor people need help, and a headline along those lines better serves as a topic of the article.

Do you agree?

Posted by: Dan, Capital Weather Gang | July 11, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Here's the real idiotic climate headline, from today's WaPo:
EPA Won't Act on Emissions This Year

Posted by: CapitalClimate | July 11, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse


I completely agree with the comment from Paul on CNN. The headline had zero basis in fact apart from an aid worker's opinion. Is every drought and every flood and every hurricane the product of man-made global warming? No, clearly not. These were around before mankind existed and will be around after we are extinct. The implication that man-made global warming was the cause of this child's malnourishment is clearly a political agenda, not responsible journalism.

Posted by: RM | July 11, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

I think the issue here really isn't all that related to the editors of CNN's views on climate change.

Pictures of starving babies are going to cause people to click through. There is also a general cultural awareness of climate change these days. Linking the two together is going to cause CNN's ad revenues to go up. I think that decision gets made fairly subconsciously, too, without some bean counter directly telling the editor which photo and headline to run.

I would guess that it's the same reason why you get such crap stories like "Missing white girls" or "celebrities using drugs again" all the time on our cable news outlets. People can't help but click through.

There are no other agendas when profit is the main concern.

Posted by: doug | July 11, 2008 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I see no difference between that headline and this headline found right here at CWG - "Is Climate Change Twisting Tornadoes". Especially given the opportunistic timing of that CWG headline.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | July 11, 2008 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Q, the difference between the headlines is that the "Twisting Tornados" was asked as a question (ie. "Is ...") while the CNN story stated "Climate Change makes...".

One asked the question is Climate Change doing X? (You could make the case that at worst it was a leading question), while the other declares that climate change is doing Y.That's the difference

Posted by: Jamie Jones, Capital Weather Gang | July 11, 2008 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Fair point Jamie Jones.

I stand corrected. There is very little difference between the CNN headline and this headline found right here at CWG - "Is Climate Change Twisting Tornadoes".

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | July 12, 2008 12:50 AM | Report abuse

And Mr. Q, that's fine. I see a difference, but as I mentioned, Andrew's headline could be considered "leading." But that's the beauty of these here inter-tubes. We don't have to agree, we just have to be able to find a middle ground. As always, thanks for reading, and keep your nose clean.

Posted by: Jamie Jones, CapitalWeather Gang | July 12, 2008 7:40 PM | Report abuse

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