Everyone trying to do something vaguely serious in the media should get behind Yahoo! Tech journalist David Pogue. The former New York Times columnist has struck upon a rather ingenious way of stemming the relentless tide of viral content clogging up everyone’s Facebook feed.
The method? Providing spoilers to the clickbait headlines.
Some examples from David’s columns:
Spoiler:Tobacco, alcohol, and prescription painkillers. (Each kills more people than marijuana.)
Clickbait: How I Got Kicked Out Of The 9/11 Museum
Spoiler: A reporter is asked to leave the 9/11 museum after witnessing a minor verbal altercation and trying to ask one of the participants a question. The museum’s guidelines prohibit reporters from interviewing people, so museum patrons can ponder and grieve in peace. Reporter feels victimized.
Spoiler: Four women in black cocktail dresses — two violinists, a cellist, and a piano player — perform while holding their instruments in various amusing positions.
Creating content online is a tough gig, and there is a serious need to create sustainable business models to keep journalism alive.
Clickbait websites like ViralNova, UpWorthy and Buzzfeed have hacked the current system that thrives off pageviews; generally speaking, advertisers pay for the amount of times a page is loaded on a website, so the more times an article is clicked on, the more money it generates. Unless you have a dedicated sales team and a very strong brand, media companies have to rely on shitty, third-party ad networks to generate revenue. Ad networks don’t pay much per-click, so the trick is to get volume as fast as possible.
Sadly, that means most of the content on the internet is complete and utter crap.
One could be sympathetic to the nonsense generated by viral content farms given the general financial state of the industry, but it is short-sighted and misguided. Buzzfeed is raking it in at the moment, but it is poisoning the industry, drowning out smaller players by sucking up people’s attention with mindless gibberish. The ‘content’ created by supposed writers isn’t good and doesn’t take much skill. Sure, there’s an art to creating eye-catching headlines, but once you know the formula, it’s about as hard as posting a photo to Facebook.
Off the top of my head, here are three headlines I’m sure would get a lot of traffic:
“This Man Proposed to his Girlfriend on Television. What She said After Was Shocking”
“This Looks Like an Ordinary Office. But Look Closer and Your Mind Will be Blown Forever”
“15 Events That Changed the World. #8 Devastated Me”
That took all of 40 seconds.
It may sound harsh, but the sooner we find a way to ruin their business model, the better. One way to start is by providing spoilers to as many articles circulating as possible so that people don’t click on them.
Bravo, Mr Pogue.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.