One of the few things people can agree on when it comes to President Trump is his ability to inspire wildly contrasting coverage from media organizations.
Following a Feb. 16 news conference in which the president told a Jewish reporter asking about a wave of anti-Semitism to sit down and expressed a general animosity toward those questioning him, SS+K associate creative director and copywriter Elena Knox and associate creative director and art director Alyssa Georg wondered how so many people could view such a performance in a positive light.
After reading a CNN story on the event, “Trump lashes out at media in press conference,” they noticed an alternate headline from Fox News: “Trump blasts ‘out of control’ media, defends agenda at heated press conference.”
Within 30 minutes, Knox and Georg had an epiphany and filed for the “Read Between The Headlines” URL, driven by a conviction that media bias had reached “the point where [they’re] not delivering news anymore, [and] clickbait is feeding into the division in this country,” Knox said.
“Headlines weren’t what triggered us to notice the problem; it was the division,” the two said, adding that while the problem didn’t start with the recent election, that’s probably when it “spiraled out of control.”
The duo’s goal is simple: to deliver solely the facts behind a story in one concise line sandwiched between two competing headlines. Their summation of Trump’s news conference was simply this: “Trump holds a 77 minute press conference.”
“If we change the nature of what the news is supposed to do to get clicks, drive revenue or appease an audience, we as a society run the risk of not being correctly informed,” they said via email. “That’s a pretty scary thing. This tool calls out both sides of the media equally to address the need for less bias in headlines.”
Knox and Georg chose CNN and Fox News because of CNN’s popularity among Democrats and Fox News’ dominance among Republicans.
“We don’t mean they’re similar in terms of journalistic integrity,” Knox stressed, adding that research conducted for pro-abortion-rights PAC and SS+K client Emily’s List concluded that those two outlets had the widest reach.
“Liberals and conservatives in Ohio are going to be reading CNN and Fox News, respectively,” she said. Focusing on those outlets lets them “keep it simple to underscore the contrast,” she added.
Knox and Georg agreed that sources like NPR, the AP and the BBC approach neutrality but think most people frequent more biased outlets and don’t cross-reference news sources.
Their goal is to start a conversation and eventually bridge the gaps among Americans’ political “bubbles.”
Georg and Knox check the news periodically and update the site with trending topics when they see a discrepancy between headlines. Knox writes the neutral summary by reading a variety of sources and condensing the information to include only facts.
The hardest part is scaling back and remaining objective.
“We just want to be really sure they don’t come from a liberal standpoint because we can’t deny that we’re both liberal,” Knox said. If reactions from their conservative friends—who tell them, “This is what our country needs right now,” according to Knox—are any indication, they’re succeeding
“That’s reassuring to us that this resonates with people,” they said in an email.
While Georg and Knox are considering taking the project to Twitter, for now, they plan to continue updating the site regularly. “We’re taking action, not just saying we’re going to be open-minded but actually doing something to encourage conversation,” they said.