Journalism and Growing Trend of Click-Baiting

HBO’s John Oliver takes on the media’s attempts to sell his show’s content through sensational headlines and clickbait.

As media outlets look to grow their shrinking audiences and advertising budgets, they are turning to popular online platforms to share stories and drive engagement.

The New York Times for instance, is setting the bar for how it presents its stories online, by including video, graphics, podcasts and photos. It’s refreshing compared to the tired ink and paper version that fewer and fewer people find on their door steps each morning. But, as some media outlets are looking to truly engage and embrace online platforms, there are others that are simply driving their audiences to digital properties to drive clicks, which they will somehow count as audience growth and sell to advertisers.

This trend is called clickbait, content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page or to comment, with the goal of growing audiences and digital revenue. It has nothing to do with journalism, although it can be cloaked as such.

We see this more and more by local media outlets that embrace less-than-accurate headlines or sensational posts to solicit clicks and comments. For instance, one local television station posted an item on its website recently about “a massive home on the market for $137,000,” under the headline “Would you buy this home?”

Turns out the home was in South Carolina. The story was all about clicks and offered no news or informational value to its audience.

In another example, we’ve seen news outlets repost Facebook news items with revised, sensational headlines and misleading explanations simply because the more accurate headlines weren’t getting enough hits or comments. Or, on Twitter we’ve seen news producers post their opinions about a story and ask audiences if they agree. This violates most journalism standards about accurately reporting the news and not offering personal opinions on it.

Online audiences are valuable, but at what point do you risk alienating them with misleading content? Before you answer, click on this link to find out how you can lose 20 pounds in a week!

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