“Kim K. wore WHAT to this Holacaust remembrance dinner?-”
A black dress… or something like that. I’ll be honest though- this headline is made up. I merely employed the use of this not-so sensational teaser to entice you to click on- or in this case, read on- so that I may gather more views and thus more revenue from advertisements to continue this farce of what is now largely accepted to be online journalism.
Of course, this kind of miserly trickery is not proper journalism and we must distinguish between quality and crass. The problem is however that clickbait and its affiliate tropes are infecting the mainstream media we rely on. Not only do these types of articles diminish the once respected nature of the profession but with their often inaccurate projections, they blur the lines between real, fake, and satirical news, thus giving credence to claims like Trump’s that the media, as a whole, cannot be trusted. How did we let this happen?
Firstly, journalism is a lot more flexible than it used to be. Yes, it is still a college course and yes, there are still exceptional reporters in Iraq but there are also many more freelancers and bloggers, who slunk through when the floodgates of social media opened. Some of them have been exceptionally innovative and clever, outside the old model but just as Youtube has allowed for the best (kind of) and worst of today’s entertainment, so has the blog-o-sphere given rise to the truly inhibited. So how does one get their voice to be heard then in such a swirling vortex? As a BBC piece on clickbait put it; ‘[it] is a golden rule of journalism [taught from the beginning that]… your introduction should grab the reader straight away.’ This is nothing new- you sensationalize and provoke with an outrageous title. Tabloids have been doing it for decades. Tabloids, however, could never wholly surmise what exactly the rabid gossipers were flicking through to. Online articles can.
Even sensationalism alone won’t do it now however. The public have grown accustomed to bank robberies and murders. What works better, as Wired put it, is ’emotional arousal.’ We click on to many of these articles, whether they deal with some phony hair regrowth method or how to tell if someone ‘can’t even’ in a specified situation, because they provoke our curiosity and elicit a response in us. Mankind, by its very nature, is uncomfortable with not knowing, especially when the answer is just a click away. Yet, we are manipulated easily and many online sites capitalize on this, resulting in fast-food journalism.
This could have been just a silly side-show to the dominant force of actual journalism. In recent years however, newspaper sales are down, broadcast ratings have fallen, and people have increasingly been getting their news online, via their Facebook newsfeed. This is very dangerous. With Facebook, we can choose to follow and unfollow whatever suits us. News is not designed to tickle our fancy and play to what we agree with though. It’s designed to inform on important subject matter. This partly explains why 2016 was such a politically divisive year. The people stuck to either the Republican or Democratic camps and whatever fell between became no-man’s land. The mainstream media, too, when it was most needed, played to wherever the action followed. Why else was Trump given so much coverage, even before the Primaries rolled out? Why else were the most important issues such as the Wealth Gap and Global Warming continually ignored? They are not alone to blame of course; we too, chose to accept the framework in which this circus operated because otherwise, we would have been forced to think critically and engage with complex, adult dialogue.
The results stand as such; the US now has a demagogic sociopath for a leader and a media with no sure confidence. They lost their credit, according to Bill Maher, because they became ‘eyeball-chasing click-bait whores’ and to restore that, they will need to go through a period of self-examination and self-improvement. As Jon Stewart put it, they should ‘take up a hobby. I recommend journalism.’ I agree with Jon. Alexis DeTocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, the press is one of the most integral facets of a free society. They are needed to hold those in power to account. Even, George W. Bush has asserted this lately and he hardly had a rapport with them.
The remedy to this ailment is simple but it will take time. The press needs to focus on reporting the important and proper news, even if it means losing a few hits. The public need to mature their interests and curb moronic list-based articles, Buzzfeed exposés, which peripheral Friends’-character-are-you based quizzes, and Facebook videos explaining brief, trivial news (by the way, Emma Watson was ‘very excited’ to take on Beauty and the Beast). Real news is often grim and unpleasant but burying our heads in the sand is never an acceptable solution; not when there is so much at stake, as there is now. Curb your outrage too- headlines like Christopher Hitchens’ famous ‘Why Women Aren’t Funny’ may elicit instantaneous backlash but when you read the actual article, you may find something deeper and more intellectual afoot. Outrage, as a form of sensationalism, is a self-multiplying currency and even three angry comments can eclipse a hundred measured responses. Use this currency well. Do not comment some diatribe about whitewashing with Matt Damon in The Great Wall. There are giant lizards. Save it. Please. Clickbait may seem insignificant but you know what?-