If you get most of your news from your Facebook feed these days, you probably get the feeling that you’ve no idea where the articles you read actually come from anymore. Regrettably, this is entirely by design and completely predictable outcome given the digital media’s obsession with getting clicks.
The problem is now so bad that the top players in the industry, like the Huff Post, Vox, Mic.com, Upworthy, ViralNova etc might as well morph into one giant content mill and live exclusively on Facebook without bothering to pay for hosting costs or web design (sadly a this could actually become a reality in the near future).
The proliferation of shitty, clickbait headlines designed to grab your attention is not only ruining readers brains, it is destroying a generation of journalists and writers who have not only lost the art of headline writing, but the entire concept of what journalism and writing is supposed to be about.
Here are some examples of the worst type of clickbait crap online right now (and I could have written this as a ‘Top Ten’ piece to get more clicks but I will continue to resist whatever the cost):
“XXX Just Happened and What They Found Is [insert: Horrifying/Amazing/Will Blow You Away]”
This is essentially the standard format at places like Mic.com, and truly defines lazy headline writing for cheap clicks. Mic.com has some very good writers, so they should know better.
“10 Ways XXX Was More [insert: Racist/Crazy/Insane] Than You Thought”
Lists are almost always guaranteed to do well, as proven by gigantic listicle generator BuzzFeed (see no.8 below). More sophisticated sites like Salon will add something vaguely intelligent to their headline, but it is still a fairly lazy way of generating views. (Note: We occasionally do lists here at the Banter, but only on very specific articles that are better presented in list form).
“I Thought I Knew About XXX Then After Watching XXX…Wow!”
This is the quintessential clickbait headline. It’s the equivalent of going to a childrens party and saying “Guess what I have in my bag!” Lazy beyond belief and needs to stop.
“[Insert celebrity name] Doesn’t Look This This Anymore”
The Huff Post runs these articles on almost a daily basis on their front page. Why? Because people want to know what Jared Fucking Leto looks like and they will click to find out. It works, every damn time.
“When You See [Insert image with red lines/arrows] You’ll Get Seriously Freaked/Chills/Mind blown”
Look!! Look at this!!! Here’s some red outlining something you can’t see, so click to find out what it is!! CLICK!!!
“What Happened to This Guy/Girl at [insert time mark on Youtube video] is Unbelievable!”
When websites come across a video with viral potential, they have to add a teaser to make sure you click on their article to watch it. The ‘What Happened Next is Unbelievable’ ruse still brings in the clicks, regardless of how old or inane the video actually is.
“XXX Problem Explained in One Word/Sentence/Paragraph”
This headline is designed to make you click so you don’t have to bother doing any proper research on whatever topic it is about. What happened Ferguson was, and is a complicated story that requires a lot of context to understand at a serious level. But what if you could understand it in one paragraph? Click and appear smart!
The Fucking List
If journalism and publishing in general finally dies, it will be because of Buzzfeed and their never ending stream on meaningless listicles. Written specifically to waste your time, lists work because they are easy to read and very shareable on social media. Lists were once useful, but now they represent everything that is wrong with the internet.
So there you have it, news media. This is what you have done to the internet, and it is your responsibility to undo it. Can you produce a piece of work that stands on its own without the cheap headline? Can you turn a listicle into a meaningful article that provides context, analysis and original though? We’re all in this together, but the race to the bottom will ultimately be the death of us. The more clickbait we publish, the less valuable all content becomes. The fact that “16 Reasons To Embrace Your Bush” (a real headline, and no, I’m not linking to it) is deemed as valuable to an advertiser as an in depth piece of original journalism on Wall St corruption should be a criminal offense. It isn’t, and it’s time we all stepped up to do something about it.
We’re in. Are you?
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.