School of Communication and the Arts


Doctor of Philosophy


Carol E. Hepburn


news headlines, headline manipulation, misleading headlines, data analytics, journalistic values, social media headlines, audience engagement, news credibility, source credibility theory, Twitter analytics, Twitter headlines




To entice and commodify social media news consumers, contemporary news organizations have increasingly relied on data analytics to boost audience engagement. Clicks, likes, and shares are the metrics that now guide the editorial process and shape decisions about content and coverage. As such, news headlines are regularly manipulated to attract the attention of those who quickly scroll through social media networks on computers and smartphones. However, few studies have examined the typologies of news content most likely to be manipulated in social media news headlines or the impact of news headline manipulation on news source credibility. For this research, source credibility theory has been updated for a practical application of today’s social media news landscape and used as a lens to examine the phenomenon, its impact on audience engagement, and association with traditional standards of journalism and credibility. A mixed methods content analysis was conducted of news headlines published on Twitter compared to headlines and content published on the websites of five traditional newspapers: the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. The results indicated that the typologies of news most likely to be manipulated for Twitter publication (opinion, politics, health/medical), were also the least credible. Conversely, typologies of news that were least likely to be manipulated for Twitter publication (international, consumer, disaster), were rated the most credible.

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