Goldman Sachs fails! Goldman Sachs triumphs!

April 17, 2014: 11:38 AM ET

It all depends on which headline you read.

By Nicholas Varchaver, assistant managing editor

FORTUNE -- It's earnings season again, which brings with it the regular wave of news articles about a company's latest results. But in this age of Twitter-sized attention spans and ever-more-compressed reading time, an old phenomenon brings increased peril: headline roulette. Particularly when companies' results are mixed, news outlets tend to spotlight different elements, creating headlines that leave wildly contrasting impressions. If you actually go to the trouble of reading the articles closely, they generally agree on the facts. But who has time to read full articles any more?

Consider these headlines from today about General Electric's results:

GE Profits Top Estimates (Bloomberg)

GE Posts Decline in Profits, Revenues (Wall Street Journal)

GE Industrial Profits Rise 12%, Shares Up (Reuters)

There's a similar effect for Goldman Sachs:

Profit and Revenue Drop at Goldman Sachs (New York Times)

Goldman Earnings Beat Estimates (Wall Street Journal)

Goldman Beats Estimates on Jump in Investment Banking (Bloomberg)

Goldman Sachs Profit Falls 11% But Beats Estimates (Reuters)

MORE: Morgan Stanley's unlikely rebound continues

And these headlines about Philip Morris International could prompt a confused cough or two:

Philip Morris 1Q Profit Falls (Washington Post)

Philip Morris Tops Estimate on Higher Prices (Bloomberg)

Philip Morris Earnings Drop 12%, as Sales Volume Continues Decline (Wall Street Journal)

So which are right? It's hard to tell without -- gasp -- reading the actual articles, but the market has its own opinion: A few hours after the headlines, GE (GE) shares were up 2%, Goldman's (GS) had risen 1%, and Philip Morris's (PM) stock had fallen 3%.

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