Case Number: 2633

Council Meeting: DECEMBER 2017

Decision: Not Upheld with Dissent

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Headlines and Captions


Marty Blayney complains about a heading on a Stuff article about a new Labour MP from the Tauranga area. Mr Blayney cites two Press Council principles: Principle 1 (Accuracy, Fairness, Balance) and Principle 6 (Headlines and Captions). The headline readNewest Labour MP hurriedly writes resignation letter.

The Complaint

Mr Blayney complains that the Stuff article headline is misleading because it implies that new Labour MP, Angie Warren-Clark, had resigned as a new MP rather than from her previous role leading Women’s Refuge in Tauranga. The heading offers up two possible interpretations. Mr Blayney believes the heading misleads in order to attract the reader: it is more noteworthy to give an impression that a new MP has resigned her new Parliamentary role rather than resigning from her Women’s Refuge role. This is also known as click bait. Without clarification, the reader is left with an impression she resigned from Parliament.

Following the response from Stuff, Mr Blayney notes that if there was no intention to deceive then the editor would not have needed to justify the use of a curiosity gap in his rebuttal. Mr Blayney provides a couple of examples of short titles which would more accurately reflect the story. Mr Blayney believes the title is click bait and argues the majority of readers would see the title and then read the article not thinking the resignation was about the Women’s Refuge role.

The Response

Patrick Crewdson, Stuff Editor, Fairfax responded.

-Headlines are not meant to convey every detail. They are limited.

-Principle 6 notes that the headline should accurately reflect the substance and key elements of the article.

-The editor notes that Blayney claims the headline implies the MP has stepped down from the parliamentary role, but it would be more correct to say that he has inferred that.

-Headline says Angie Warren-Clark has resigned - that is factual and accurate.

-When reading both headline and story no one will be confused.

-Context is important. She had been waiting for special votes. The newsworthy point was being elected by special votes then scrambling to get to Parliament. A candidate who thought they had lost on election night then enjoyed a reversal two weeks later is newsworthy.

-It was common for headlines to employ a “curiosity gap” approach. It leads the reader to want to know more but it’s not clickbait.

The Discussion

Whilst Mr Blayney’s complaint argues for Principle 1, the Council is of the view that adherence to this principle or not falls on our view in regards to Principle 6 (Headings and Captions.) Headlines, sub-headings, and captions should accurately and fairly convey the substance or key element of the report that it is designed to cover.

The Council agrees with the editor that context is important here. The readership would be interested in the story of a MP who through special votes would become a Parliamentarian.

The editor’s differentiation between curiosity gap and click bait doesn’t hold weight here. The intention remains the same; to attract the reader to the article with a headline.

The next question for the Council is whether the headline adheres to our Principle 6 or not.

Clarification comes in the third paragraph of the article which notes her required resignation from Women’s Refuge. The standard for the industry is not the optimum headline. The standard is that the headline accurately and fairly conveys a key element of the story. Warren-Clark as a new MP had to resign from a position – that is accurate. The story then clarifies what role she resigned from. The story from paragraph three is clearly about her difficult decision to resign from her Women’s Refuge role.

The complaint on both principles is not upheld, with one member John Roughan dissenting.

Press Council members considering this complaint were Sir John Hansen, Liz Brown, Jo Cribb, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, John Roughan, Hank Schouten, Marie Shroff, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.


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