reality blurred’s headlines: they aren’t spoilers, and you’re responsible for what you read

On Friday, there was some reaction about a headline I’d written on a story here. This happens occasionally when someone decides a headline is too revealing and gets mad at me because I’ve spoiled the outcome of an episode for them, causing their day to be ruined, their pet to vomit, and their sex drive to diminish.

So, here’s the policy I’ve had in place for almost a decade now (yes, that’s how long this site has been around):

reality blurred‘s headlines, including Twitter and Facebook posts, will include information about the content of TV programs that have been broadcast on both coast in the U.S., and that may include information such as who was kicked off a show or who won.

Why? Here’s my rationale:

  • Headlines need to be informative. The response I get most often is something like, Just write headlines that aren’t revealing. That sounds reasonable, but in practice, just doesn’t make sense. Indirect headlines also punish the vast majority (who have to deal with vagueness) just to spare a small but vocal minority.

    First, there are over 10,000 stories on reality blurred. Imagine if every one about an episode was generic: Someone voted off Survivor! American Idol loses another Idol! That’s kind of useless, and about half of the visitors to this site come to it via searches, where key words in headlines are critical to ranking and indexing, never mind making it easy to browse the archives.

    Sometimes I write headlines that are less direct or attempt to be creative or witty, but even those can be revealing. And yes, sometimes I write headlines that focus on something other than a result, because I’m summarizing what my post focuses on, and what I think is most newsworthy. But often, the most newsworthy, important, and, yes, attention-grabbing part of a story is something that is revealing.

  • TV is fair game for discussion after it is broadcast. I actually put myself at a competitive disadvantage by nearly always waiting until the morning after to post a story that discusses results. I do that because I want to be fair to everyone. I’ve had disagreements with editors who insist on putting results in headlines immediately after a show airs on the east coast (but not the west coast), but that’s increasingly becoming the status quo: witness Ryan Seacrest unapologetically revealing who went home on Twitter immediately after Idol immediately after it aired in the east.
  • My definition of “spoiler” is an advance reveal something consequential that’s not been officially revealed as part of a narrative or general practice. So, giving away what happens to, say, Jack in next month’s finale of Lost is a spoiler. But it’s not a spoiler that the character of Boone dies in the first season.

    Something that already aired can never be a spoiler–even though, yes, it may be new or surprising to someone who missed it or has not yet watched it. Imagine if we were to treat every consequential revelation as a spoiler. That would basically make an incredible amount of material constitute a spoiler for each individual, and it’d be absurd to suggest that we all be vigilant and never discuss consequential moments in books, or plays, or TV shows.

    Some people reasonably suggest a moratorium on revealing headlines,
    arguing that a day-after headline is too soon. But how long should we wait? What about someone who can’t watch their DVR for three weeks because they’re on vacation? Should we wait for them? Unlike films, the content of TV shows often makes news. (It’s not news what happens at the end of The Crying Game or The Sixth Sense.) And that means the world is going to talk about it, and headlines can and should mention it.

  • If you DVR, you can’t expect to control the rest of the world, too. Right now, fewer than 40 percent of homes have DVRs, and having a DVR doesn’t mean you won’t watch a show live, of course. That means that the next day, if not during an episode, most people who watch a particular show will be talking about it: on Facebook, on Twitter, before class, in line at Starbucks. Are you going to yell at the person standing in front of you in line at Starbucks who’s discussing last night’s Survivor that you haven’t watched?
  • Actually, that’s kind of what happens, and worse: When I have posted spoilers, usually with the word “spoiler” in the headline and then a spoiler alert in the text, I’ve had people complain about being spoiled because they skimmed past the disclaimer, or didn’t really believe that it was going to be a spoiler. So, what, should I fly to your house and sit next to you as you read each post? I kid, but seriously, these kinds of responses are irrational. I understand that, because people have emotional reactions to entertainment they’re invested in.

    Based on my own TV watching, I think it’s more than reasonable to assume that someone who is truly passionate about a TV show will watch it live or hide themselves from all possible sources of information until after they’ve watched. Period.

    Yes, it totally sucks to accidentally see the results of a show you have DVRed. It’s happened to me, and I’ve been pissed off. But that’s never directed at someone else, and I’ve never blamed someone else for the headline, or post, or comment, or whatever; I get mad at myself. It’s really kind of selfish to demand that the rest of the world protect you, instead of taking responsibility to protect yourself.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.