I admit using headlines to grab your attention

I have noticed that the word ‘admit ‘ is commonly used by Media to make something look dodgy. A headline that caught my eye today is an example.



There are so many things that are true and totally innocuous that can be made to look dodgy by the simple use of the word ‘admit’. Its inclusion makes us think that the person named is ashamed or was pressured in some way to tell the truth. In some cases that may actually be correct but in others the word has been added only to make an eye-catching headline.

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As some publishers struggle to grow their web traffic, one company believes increasing the ratio of some words in headlines could draw in readers. Researchers at native-advertising company Sharethrough says they have narrowed down a thousand words in the English language that are proven to elicit higher emotional engagement.

…the company came up with a list of 1,072 so-called “context words,” broadly grouped into four categories (the full list of context words is available here):

  • time (e.g. abrupt, today, fast)
  • insight (e.g. admit, idea, secret)
  • motion (e.g. act, climb, journey)
  • space (e.g. away, outside).

Based on Sharethrough’s analysis, headlines with at least a 17% ratio of context words command a much higher emotional response in readers.


I have decided to have a bit of fun with this technique by using the context word ‘admit’ to gain an emotional response. It is rather effective as even I was influenced by my own headlines.


                          Andrew Little admits to relationship with black cat.

John Key

John Key admits long-term sexual relationship with woman called Bronagh

" Don't shoot "

James Shaw

                  Co-leader of the Greens admits his tie was made in China.

Martyn Bradbury

Martyn Bradbury screenshot-whaleoil.co.nz

               Blogger Martyn Bradbury admits to wearing brown with black


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  • Beetle

    You could add the headlines “denies allegation” (probably a polite response to the ‘when did you start beating your wife?’ herald or John Campbell type question) and “refuses to comment” (probably in response to an unreasonably timed demand to half-arsed and ill-informed questions from a 12 year old stuff reporter) to the growing list of loaded and editorialised click-bait. The headlines are now so far away from what actually happened it’s now farcical. How many times have you wasted precious time reading a story with an alarmist and biased headline, only to find out you’ve been duped by yet another beat-up?

    • Jude

      It is happening with alarming regularity. Don’t bother reading the article, the comments that readers leave afterward are in some cases comedy gold!?

    • KatB

      I’ve given up reading most articles now, because I assume the article won’t match the headline. So it’s having a reverse affect. Instead of getting more people to click, I think less are. Like you say, you won’t be caught again wasting your time.

  • Cadwallader

    When it is trial by media, or at least cross-examination then “admit” would understandably be their preferred word. It is as though they now see themselves as a police force, a court of law, and an arbiter of morality. They are nothing of the sort. They are a conduit between the world and each of us. Oh; they’ve clearly forgotten this!

  • Keanne Lawrence

    The pen is mightier than the sword but like the variances of the levels of the swordsmen penmanship is even more so. The keyboard has been instrumental in accelerating the decline in penmanship almost to the point where it is dangerous to give some a pen.
    Now we have a Media party made up of keyboard jockeys masquerading as “journalists” who believe it is in the public interest to make the news rather than report it. While using key words or assembling a headline in a dyslexic manner it often turns out to be the best part of it. Beyond there it rapidly slips down the reader scale if you missed the bi-line before being grabbed by the headline.

  • andrewo

    Bradbury is eating too many pies

    • Dave

      Yes, but the bigger question is, who paid for the suit, can guarantee it wasn’t KDC paying for Bradbury’s toys this time.

  • Sticktotheknitting

    Andrew Little is very fond of his cat. Bless.

    • Nermal

      Just goes to show there’s a little bit of good in the worst of us LOL

  • Wheninrome

    Does David Fisher admit that using “cut and paste” is a valuable tool in his journalism and he couldn’t do without it?

  • Nermal

    I laughed at th NZ not being totally nuclear free. I knew that because I had radioactive pellets injected for cancer treatment

  • earthyundertones

    I thought yesterdays headline was like the perfect NZ Herald Poker hand… John Key, Secret, Donation, Luncheon, Flag! They must have been squealing with joy when they tried to write it. Imagine their fervour when they could even put the word “Chinese” in the subheading! Still, far more eye-catching than “PM invited to lunch, turns up.”