Can healing headlines beat shocking ones?

(Photo via State of Digital)

(Photo via State of Digital)


I know. I know. Headlines have, since the very beginning, been written to turn heads. They have largely done so by inducing fear or anxiety There's a reason the saying goes "if it bleeds, it leads". The more dramatic, dire, urgent or disruptive a story is advertised to be, the more likely people are to read it. This practice is a direct response to human nature. Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to threats -- real or perceived. 

It's good business to play into that natural response system. When the brain's imagination runs wild, it kicks up a pretty steady revenue stream in its wake.

What if there's money to be earned by pursuing the brain's opposite response? What if headlines, rather than induce anxiety and scare or anger audiences into clicking, sought to cater to our curiosity and our desire to heal and improve our well-being?

Let me explain. I recently switched up my Twitter feeds to surface more stories on mindfulness, meditation, wellness and health. I did this to counteract the negative emotional and physical effects of traditional daily news headlines. Yes, there can be an emotional and physical toll. But I also realized that there was an opportunity, perhaps, to pivot stories from their anxious tone to a more generative, hopeful and empowering one. That is an editorial choice. 

I find I more frequently read and engage with my positive, healthier news feed more than any other. I am more aware of when news and information negatively affects me, and I seek out information that provides a more constructive, solutions-oriented outlook. What if these stories were the norm rather than the exception. 

We are in the middle of a transformational era in media -- no news there (ba-dum!). But how we choose to go forward, whether it be the nature of our headlines or the ways we treat those who read them, will largely determine the overall nature of our behaviors and, ultimately, our culture and the health of our society. 


Emi Kolawole

Emi Kolawole earned her B.A. in international relations and theater studies from Wellesley College and studied abroad at both the Panthéon-Sorbonne and the National Theater Institute.  She joined the Annenberg Public Policy Center's in November, 2005 after working as a news researcher for Congressional Quarterly on issues of defense, foreign policy, intelligence and homeland security. Previously, she was a production assistant at PBS's "NOW With Bill Moyers," and worked in the Washington area office of a defense contractor.

In addition to her work as a staff writer and researcher for FactCheck, Emi was the host, writer and video editor for's weekly video feature "Just the Facts!"  She is a level 1 certified Final Cut Pro editor and earned her master's degree in producing for film and video at American University. She also led the fact-checking review effort for "UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation."

Emi served as the associate producer for "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill & National Journal." In June 2010 she joined the Washington Post as a producer for PostPolitics. She served as the founding editor for Ideas@Innovations (now "Innovations") and co-host for the Post's daily news program "59 Seconds." In 2011, Emi was named a Young Global Shaper by The World Economic Forum. In 2013 she was listed among The Grio 100, was named a French-American Foundation Young Leader and accepted an invitation to become the Editor-in-residence at the at Stanford University. She has served for the past three years at the, most recently as a senior media designer working on the media experiments collaboration between Knight Foundation and the She is currently the founder of the media and design consultancy Dexign LLC.