The $350 Million That Wasn’t: The Press Democrat Manufactures Happy Headlines

The Press Democrat (PD) manufactures a happy headline about (our) benevolent capitalists giving schoolchildren big bucks

A minor quibble with the North Bay’s largest paper, perhaps, but shouldn’t we, at a minimum, expect a PD headline to be accurate, not directly contradicted by the article it accompanies? The article in question appeared on Wednesday, February 5, 2014.

Local firms giving  350 million to U.S. schools  w video    The Press Democrat

The banner headline of the print edition read “Local firms giving $350M to U.S. schools.”

[The photo of President Obama accompanied the online version, but not the print edition]


The PD’s headline might seem a perfectly normal, if unexciting description of a chain of events involving two very prominent local firms, Autodesk and O’Reilly Media, and a donation they agreed to make to the president’s ConnectED initiative.

Yet it was immediately contradicted by the piece’s first sentence:

Two North Bay high-tech companies pledged Tuesday to give away more than $350 million in software and educational content as part of a White House initiative to put technology into the hands of American Students.

That’s $350 million worth of software and educational content; considerably less exciting than a donation to schools of 350 million dollars. Would the headline “Local firms give software with a declared retail value of $350 million to U.S. Schools” have sold many papers?

Minor, it’s true, given some of the paper’s truly epic failures – correcting for the lapdog, war-mongering “journalism” of New York Times (then the owner of the PD) reporter Judith Miller in its own pages, rather than reprinting her now completely discredited propaganda comes to mind.

Newspapers have long been the most prolific boosters of local business endeavors – this likely comes as no surprise to readers. Newspapers serve their communities in a variety of ways after all, not just as the high-minded guardians of democracy/educators of an informed citizenry they lay claim to being when it suits their purposes. The guardians of the Fourth Estate do love to point out that they’re the sole occupation explicitly mentioned in the Bill of Rights.

Traditionally papers have been in the business of pursuing a profit first and foremost, so saying nice things about your friends, neighbors, & potential advertisers – particularly the well-heeled ones – can be good business sense.

I’ll not knock O’Reilly or Autodesk’s software or their contribution to the education of our children here. Nor will I delve into the sorry state of affairs in which our schools find themselves always in need of bake sales and donations, while there’s always an extra trillion dollars or so we can add to the National Debt when a war is to be fought.

Perhaps it was a slow news day. Perhaps there was a desire for happy news to support a President the editors are fond of. One thing we know for certain – the headline will ultimately reach far more folks than the content of the article it appeared above, and that’s positive public relations of tremendous value to the O’Reilly, Autodesk, and the White House. Given how busy we all are, and how often news headlines are the extent of what we may learn about a particular subject, it’s of great benefit to an informed people when the headlines actually get it right.

Thank the PD.

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