Clickbait - Is it the end of journalism as we know it?

by MarketG Banned
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There's no denying it, the Internet has become flooded with GIF-centered "writing" many call "listicles" which, is probably the reason why readers have become so uninterested in creative writing. With many people spending countless hours each week on BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed clone sites, demanding "cute" cat or dog photos or GIFs from a famous movie to "tell the story" of an important event or the best holidays, most of them have very low expectations when it comes to quality writing.

Unfortunately, many websites are falling into the trap of focusing purely on attracting high amounts of traffic. Indeed, claiming that page-view journalism and clickbait sites are the end of writing as we know it is a bit of an exaggeration, however, it is a serious issue which deserves some debate. It is perhaps slightly ironic that links for listicles and other articles will most likely surround this article's link, but as we know, there are certain ways of getting a message across!

Many claim that 'clickbait' content constitutes a general 'dumbing down' of popular journalism and it is hard to defend this given that creative writing is being replaced by lists, graphics and videos, but is it all such a bad thing? Certainly for anybody who really enjoys reading and the art of creative writing, clickbait is a most unwelcome and unentertaining format, but in certain circumstances it is probably more effective at reaching certain target audiences.

There are however, as you might expect, arguments for and against the use of 'clickbait' and other methods of attracting viewers based purely on site traffic, so whilst from a purely academic viewpoint, the standard of clickbait content writing is pretty much worthless, there are those who would argue that the future of online journalism depends on it.

For example, in an article by DAVID HIGGERSON on he claims that the failure to understand or acknowledge that audience data is critical to our future as journalists, especially regional journalists, by people within in the industry is very dangerous. The assumption that clickbait - as in content people find unsatisfactory but heck, we've got the page view so does it matter - is the result of listening to the reader through data suggests a fundamental lack of understanding by some about how media organizations need to adapt to survive in the future.

He goes on to make two points regarding the use of 'metrics'. Of course, like anything, there is a 'good way' to use numbers and a 'bad way.' This is nothing new. There are newsrooms within the media which set themselves a number-of-page-views-at-all-cost or unique-users-at-all-cost target, and this, he agrees is a 'crazy' practise.

Sensible audience metrics take the needs of a business - and whether an editor or a manager, you have to understand the needs of the business - and develop an editorial approach which ensures the needs of business, generally ad impressions for now, can be met sustainably.

So, assessing journalism based just on 'hits' is just crude, in the same way as substituting audience metrics for the word 'hits,' a phrase which died maybe a decade ago for any journalist who sensibly uses audience metrics, is also crude.

Which is why you have to look at things like the percentage of page views to an article which made up the total of any one visit, or the time spent on an article, and the percentage of people visiting an article who are local, in the case of the regional press. You then boil that down into instant data journalists can glance at and use to inform their next decision.

That perhaps doesn't feel so crude, as that data is the data being used in the newsrooms day in, day out. An overall newsroom target has to be hit to ensure the newsroom is delivering what the commercial departments need for the company to be successful. That's no different to newspaper sales targets in the newsroom, other than that we know for sure what works and what doesn't.

The conclusion which dispels the concern about clickbait being the death of traditional journalism is that readers who feel cheated by a website don't return. The same surely applies to print readers, and although it may take some time to build loyalty to a particular site, readers aren't stupid.

The second point was to defend the comment that "They [managers] must accept that journalism based on a clickbait culture is, ultimately, worthless."

Even though many journalism outlets, for a long time, did rely on 'clickbait' purely to inflate the metrics, regional news brands may be competing with a hyperlocal website, the local BBC and, if a story is big enough, every single national brand out there to get attention, so if local brands which have been around for 150 years are to be around into the future, they need to be relevant to people, preferably on a daily basis. A clickbait culture would not allow this to happen.

Examples of the type of clickbait being discussed above are:

⦁ A deliberately misleading headline, i.e. the prevalence of outright lies posing as news on "satire" sites: "Bill Murray Stops Bank Robbery In Tokyo, Accidentally."

⦁ Unearned hyperbole: "The 41 Most Awkward Things That Have Ever Happened."

⦁ Hate-clicking, which can be either an affirmation or denial of the audience's presumed leanings: " Just Look At This Couple And Then Tell Me That Marriage Equality Should Be Banned." This encompasses the #SlatePitch, something that seems so obviously counter-intuitive that you have to click to find how what this jackass is talking about.

⦁ Willful withholding of information that could have easily been included in the headline: a tactic most common on social media sharing: "14-year-old girl stabbed her little sister 40 times, police say. The reason why will shock you." This also includes headlines in the form of a question, for which the answer is inevitably no, as well as omitting the subject of the piece. "This One Guy..." "And This Surprising City..."

⦁ The ellipses (or implied ellipses): "Officer Tells Texas Man Openly Carrying Rifle He's 'Free to Go' - It's Hard to Believe What Happened Just Two Minutes Later" - See more at: Every Major Website Clickbaits, But Not as Much as You

Whatever we think about it, the ever evolving online media still has some way to evolve, and that includes the role that social media also plays in sensationalist headlines and eye catching stories to boost the metrics, but ultimately it's us, the readers, who will decide what is worth reading.
#clickbait #end #journalism

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