If you have survived the digital media industry for a decent number of years, you begin understand how the not-so-ethical business works. The successful players generally make the majority of their revenue from repackaging viral media trends and gaming facebook algorithms, while outlets committed to serious reporting and thoughtful content are generally punished (trust us on this one).
Sites live and die by their traffic, and the hunt for clicks is relentless and soul destroying. So when reputable sites begin to modify their content or headlines to take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO), facebook trends or celebrity gossip, it is somewhat understandable given the enormous pressures of the industry.
But when a supposedly serious media outlet publishes purposefully misleading and inaccurate headlines to generate traffic, that outlet can no longer be regarded as a reputable source for news or opinion, particularly if it becomes standard practice.
We have gone after Salon over the years mostly because of their ludicrously shrill opinion pieces that leave even the most diehard of liberals scratching their heads (check out “The Dangerous Transphobia of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’” if you have the stomach). But recently, a more worrying trend has emerged at the site, and one that threatens to ruin what is left of its reputation as a serious media outlet.
Last weekend, Salon published an excerpt from the book “A Brief History of Creation: Science and the Search for the Origin of Life” by Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves, on the fascinating history behind the ongoing conflict between atheism, science and religion. The excerpt discusses historical figures in the seventeenth and eighteenth century including Renee Descartes, Voltaire, Buffon and John Needham, and makes no mention of any thinkers further than the the mid to late eighteenth century. Yet this is the headline and photo Salon went with:
Dawkins noticed the fact that there was no mention of his name, or any twitter controversy throughout the entire piece, and tweeted the following:
What is Salon’s agenda?
Here’s a long article which doesn’t mention me yet I’m in the title complete with photo. https://t.co/Y3dcasVcyD
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) January 20, 2016
This is not the first time Salon has pulled a trick like this — in fact only just over a week ago writer Steve Stankevicius contacted us about Salon doing the exact same thing to an article they published of his — interestingly using Richard Dawkins (and fellow atheist Sam Harris) in the misleading headline that had little to do with the substance of the piece. We published Steve’s response here as few other sites have been willing to call Salon out on this type of nonsense — nonsense that sadly appears to now be standard practice if you look at recent trends. Banter readers will remember that Salon committed an even more extreme form of journalistic malpractice with Sam Harris last month when they published a lengthy correspondence between Harris and journalist Sean Illing, conveniently omitting Harris’s criticism of Salon — despite explicitly agreeing to publish them.
These childish tactics are nothing more than desperate attempts to generate traffic using the names of people like Richard Dawkins to game search engines and facebook. The editors are betting that people will click on the piece regardless of the substance, and the people they attack won’t respond Their censorship of Harris is equally pathetic, leading one to believe that the editors at Salon do not take their jobs seriously at all. Do Bill Mesler and H. James Cleaves know that they are a party to all of this? Do Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have any ways to stop Salon profiting off of their names while unfairly smearing them? Sadly, this is the internet and they can publish whatever they like with little fear of recourse — a tactic that no doubt pays off in the short term.
But the long term consequences of this deeply unethical behavior is likely far less profitable when everyone finally understand that the once respected website for provocative liberal thought is now a cheap, Buzzfeed knock-off that has no respect for journalism, and no respect for their readers.
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.